1995 Legislative Session: 4th Session, 35th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
TUESDAY, JUNE 27, 1995
Afternoon Sitting (Part 2)
Volume 21, Number 16
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The House resumed at 6:56 p.m.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
Hon. C. Gabelmann: In Committee A, I call Committee of Supply for the purpose of debating the estimates of the Ministry of Government Services. In the House tonight, I call continued second reading debate on Bill 28.
(second reading continued)
D. Mitchell: I'd like to say a few more words on the Election Act. You'll recall that when I adjourned the debate before the supper hour, I indicated that there is much that is good in this bill. There's nothing more important than an election act -- a piece of legislation that deals with the exercise of our franchise. I think if we learned one thing in recent elections at both the provincial and federal levels, it is that elections matter.
I think one of the conclusions that political scientists have come to is that elections matter in the sense that the results of those infrequent and unpredictably timed contests among parties and candidates are actually decided during the period of the writ itself -- during the period from the time when the election is called until voting date. In British Columbia we have the shortest writ period in all of Canada -- 28 days. It's the shortest election period in the whole country. How we regulate that period could easily decide the outcome of an election. Indeed, if we agree with the political scientists who argue that elections matter, the election will be decided within that 28-day period, which is a very short period of time.
So a new election act dealing with these very important details of something that we take so seriously -- the exercise of our franchise that was fought for by previous generations -- is extremely important, and it's why I raise the concerns about the manner in which this bill has come to this House.
There's much to support in this legislation, and I have indicated what I think is good about the bill. I'd like to indicate that not all is good, and I'd like to offer some comments on what I think is bad, or what falls into the category that I've outlined as the bad in the bill. I think it deals primarily with the issue of disclosure. While I have indicated that disclosure is welcome, and while it hasn't gone perhaps far enough.... The bill does not offer full disclosure in the sense that so-called volunteers who are loaned to an election campaign, even though they might be on full salary from another organization, are not regarded as a contribution under this bill.
So do we really have full disclosure? This exemption allows for a continuation of a loophole that has now been closed in most other jurisdictions. It would be of particular benefit to one party in British Columbia, the New Democratic Party, which counts on the campaign assistance of well-paid union organizers. That's why this bill has something in it that I call the bad; it is not quite full disclosure. We know that all parties might be able to benefit from the fact that paid workers on an election campaign are not regarded as a political contribution, and therefore don't have to be disclosed or included in the campaign spending limits in this bill.
Campaign limits are themselves an area of controversy. Should we have limits on how much is spent? Or, if we did indeed have full disclosure, would that be sufficient? If we had true full disclosure, would it even be necessary to put limits on the campaign? The reason I ask that question is that it has been proven time and again in recent elections -- whether it be the most recent federal election or indeed the national referendum on the Charlottetown accord -- that the party, parties or side that spends the most money doesn't always win the contest. In fact, one might argue that there's a direct inverse relationship between how much is spent on a campaign and success in recent contests.
If we had full disclosure, maybe we wouldn't have to worry about putting caps on. But full disclosure should include so-called volunteers who might be receiving pay. We all know that if you take a look at the area of swing ridings.... Perhaps if a party targeted ten or 12 swing ridings that were key to the winning of an election, and put in five or ten paid full-time workers in each of those swing ridings, that could decide the outcome in a close contest. Indeed, the NDP might want to do that with their paid union pork-choppers and funnel them into ten or 12 key ridings. If we had to include their contributions as part of the spending cap in this bill, that would take up the whole allowable spending limit of about $50,000 per constituency. Clearly, this is a bad provision in the bill.
There are several areas of the bill that I would regard as questionable. I don't put them down as being good or bad, but they are clearly questionable. Let me just list a few of them.
The new Election Act would impose spending limits, and I have already referred to this as being questionable. But much has been said about the area of public opinion research reporting. This is an area that I know you, hon. Speaker, might have an opinion on. Indeed, earlier in the debate I think you expressed some concerns about another aspect of the bill. But I want to deal with public opinion research and the prohibitions on publication, because I think this is a key area of the bill. There has been a lot of negative reaction. We have to look at who the negative reaction has come from. It has come from the media and from pollsters. That's quite predictable, hon. Speaker, when you think about the fact that self-interest is being served by that reaction.
But does public opinion research, when broadcast -- whether in an election campaign period or in between election campaigns -- have an impact? I think all of the research indicates that it does. I believe that the bill actually doesn't go far enough in some respects in this area, because perhaps there should be some requirements for all of the news media to accurately publish and broadcast scientific polls, and not to misrepresent polls that are less than scientific. Those details should be broadcast and published on a regular basis. It doesn't happen today, and we see a lot of misrepresentation in the media. This bill seeks to regulate the publication and broadcast of public opinion research during an election campaign period; that's only 28 crucial days in the province. Is that long enough? Shouldn't we have a requirement year-round, throughout and in between elections?
While I know no government would seek to interfere with the media and free expression, the media don't regulate themselves very well in this area. We see non-scientific polls, selective polls and random surveys, which are not scientific,
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being published all the time, whether it's on BCTV, in various newspapers or by radio stations in our province, and they're presented as if they're factual. I think that's misleading in the extreme. The Canadian Daily Newspaper Publishers' Association has published guidelines on the publication of technical information with their polls, and it is interesting that most news organizations who are members of that association don't even follow their own guidelines. So the media deserve to be scrutinized and criticized in this area, and to be brought up to some standard.
The difficulty with the bill is that it says that every poll must be accompanied by a whole list of detailed technical information. This includes the name of the poll sponsor, the dates the poll was conducted, the number of people polled, the poll's margin of error, the exact wording of each question, the address and telephone number of the poll sponsor, and other miscellaneous details too wordy to get into right now. Clearly this is not conducive to a radio report or most electronic media in that sense.
So the flaw with the bill and the hon. Attorney General's approach is that the media were not consulted, even though the motivation is a good one here. We do need regulation of public opinion research, because it's misleading and self-serving in the extreme, and it doesn't do much more than give free publicity to certain pollsters who manage to get their polls leaked selectively. The problem with this bill is that there was no consultation with the public, the media or with pollsters to see how we could accommodate this.
In fact, if you look at the Lortie commission, which recently looked at federal election legislation, it made some very specific recommendations in this regard that have not yet been followed by the federal government. So far we've seen a ban on the publication of polls in the last few days of an election campaign. We've seen that federally and in some provinces such as Ontario -- many might have noticed that in the most recent election campaign in that province. I don't think that's good enough. I think we need to have a standard by which public opinion research is reported on a regular basis. But clearly, what's included in Bill 28 won't work for the electronic media in our province. That's why there has been a negative reaction, and that's why this section of the bill, I think, is questionable.
Polls do shape the coverage of campaigns. We know that. If we look at the last provincial election in British Columbia, those of us who were elected to this House will remember very clearly those 28 days at the end of September and in the first half of October 1991. They were shaped dramatically by the polls that were broadcast every night on BCTV "Newshour." We knew it; we could feel it viscerally in our campaigning when we were walking up to doorsteps and when we were working in our campaign offices. We know that polls shape the outcomes of elections. But it's not only in election campaign periods that they need to be regulated, that they need to be reported accurately and fairly. The media have not been able to govern themselves. I say to the hon. Attorney General that we should have a standard imposed on the media year in and year out. It should be a workable one that the media can live with, and the media need to be consulted on this. They haven't been, and that's why this is questionable.
I think a couple of other areas in the bill are questionable. I would put into the questionable category the continuation of the current system of indirect subsidies to political parties. I've talked about the fact that it's great that this bill doesn't follow the federal model of direct subsidies to parties. That would be wrong; it would be going against the grain of the democratic thrust of our modern age. But we are continuing with a system of tax credits. In fact, we're even extending those tax credits to constituency associations now. One of the big changes in this bill is that a constituency association can now issue tax receipts. I think we have to ask ourselves a serious question in this age of fiscal restraint. When many politicians are calling for deep cuts in funding to non-profit organizations, can we really justify perpetuating the subsidization of the most glorified special interest groups of them all, sometimes known as political parties?
I wonder if it really makes sense for us to continue that process. Is it fair, when somebody gives $100 to a political party or to a constituency association, that that first $100 should generate a $75 tax credit? Does that make sense at the same time that we, as politicians, are hearing from all sides of the House that non-profit organizations should have their subsidies, indirect or otherwise, cut and slashed, or sometimes eliminated? Why do political parties constitute the special category of special interest groups that deserves this taxpayer subsidy, even though it's an indirect one? I raise that in all seriousness, and I think it's a questionable part of the bill. I wonder if the Attorney General even considered any alternatives to it. There's no evidence that he has, because we know not what kind of consultation preceded the tabling of this bill in the House.
I would like, as well, to talk about the category that I would call the ugly. We've had the good, the bad, the questionable, and now the ugly.
D. Mitchell: I think I hear that spaghetti-western theme in the background.
The ugliest provision, the most reprehensible provision of this bill -- and I think was purposely put into this bill.... While I don't want to attribute unworthy motives to anyone, I can only speculate that this section has been put into the bill to provoke a reaction, to provoke an inevitable legal challenge to this legislation that will delay its implementation. I'm referring, of course, to the so-called gag law: the restriction on advertising by third parties during elections. When I refer to third parties, I am not referring to the Reform Party in the Legislature; I am referring to organizations or individuals other than political parties who seek to participate in the democratic process by advertising, by taking advocacy positions during an election campaign.
This legislation -- Bill 28 -- seeks to restrict that involvement in the democratic process to a limit of $2,000. You know that if you wanted to put an ad in the Vancouver Sun, $2,000 wouldn't buy you very much; it would be a very small ad indeed. But that is it; that would be your limit as an individual if you wanted to participate in an election campaign under this bill or take an advocacy position for or against a candidate or a party. Now, is that fair? Is it constitutional? Could it withstand a challenge? I don't think it could. I think that that's the clue in this bill as to the lack of seriousness of the Attorney General in bringing it forward in a genuine manner, as if he expected this to be passed into law and be in effect at the time of the next provincial election. I just don't think it is possible, and I think this ugly provision in the bill provides the clue as to why.
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I never would have thought that we would see a connection between the New Democratic Party in 1995 and the Alberta Socreds of the Great Depression years of the 1930s, who also tried to bring in similar gag laws. Isn't it ironic, when you think about Bible Bill Aberhart's funny-money group, which tried to bring in legislation called The Accurate News and Information Act and other such forms of restrictions back in the 1930s. They were struck down by the courts, by some important decisions in Canadian judicial history, including a decision in 1938 by the Supreme Court of Alberta in which Chief Justice Lyman Duff said very clearly that "provincial legislatures do not have the constitutional authority to restrict the right of public debate or to suppress freedom of the press."
That's a decision from 1938, and it has been upheld time and again in judicial challenges. It's been upheld as recently as the challenge to the federal legislation that sought to put a similar restriction on third-party involvement during election campaigns. Of course, there is an appeal going forward now to the Supreme Court of Canada. There is at least one, and I think there are a couple. The hon. Attorney General must be aware of these challenges. He must be aware of the challenges to the constitutionality of restricting these kinds of democratic freedoms, and so I question why he would have put these into the bill. That's the ugly.
My time is limited in this debate. Before I close, I want to ask the hon. Attorney General why he didn't consider real reform. Why didn't he consider real reform of our election laws? Why did he bring in a bill without consultation? Why didn't we talk about bringing in something like fixed election dates so that the government of the day cannot manipulate the timing of an election, and so that we can know the dates with some certainty and predictability? Why didn't he bring in regulations on leadership debates, which have now become a permanent feature in election campaigns? But who should decide? Should they be negotiated between the media and politicians, or should they be regulated as part of our election process? Should we have considered different forms of voting and preferential ballots? Why didn't we consider real reform? Those are the questions I would like to pose to the hon. Attorney General, and I will do so when we get to committee stage.
[M. Farnworth in the chair.]
F. Gingell: The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi has raised a series of interesting matters. When as many years have gone by as have passed since the Election Act of British Columbia was last revised in major form, there have been substantial changes in the way we live and communicate. I think it was apparent to all of us that the time had come for an Election Act to be tabled by the government.
There are certain issues in this House that should be treated and developed in a non-partisan manner. There are certain issues which are clearly partisan, but issues like the Election Act or the drawing of constituency boundaries should, in my opinion, be brought away from the partisan interests of the governing party. It is important for all the people of British Columbia to have trust and faith in the election process and to believe that the process is fair and equitable. Bill 28 does not give the people of British Columbia that kind of comfort.
Any time that a political party brings in changes to another act that deals with elections at a junior level of government, like municipalities, and then refuses to bring in the same requirements for their own Election Act.... One wonders whether the issue of an election act for British Columbia and the other provinces should even be under provincial jurisdiction. It would seem to me that we cannot trust ourselves -- or this government certainly cannot be trusted -- to bring forward a non-partisan piece of legislation that all political parties and all citizens can feel comfortable with.
The issue that I take the greatest offence to is that of paid leave. We all know that there should be spending limits in election campaigns. I pride myself on getting elected last time with one of the lowest, if not the lowest, expenditures of funds. It sure came as a surprise, and I still haven't gotten over the shock.
But clearly, when you look at the way an election campaign works, we all understand what the inputs are. The inputs are in the form of cash and in the form of equipment that is loaned to you, whether it be a telephone, a fax machine, a photocopier or even hammers to hammer in signs. It comes to you in the form of materials that are given to you -- lumber and various stuff -- and it comes in the form of labour, in the form of work by people.
Many campaigns literally go out and hire people to work on their campaigns. They hire people to work on phone banks; they hire campaign managers; they hire people to put up signs. What is the difference between someone making a donation of $5,000 to someone's campaign and that money being spent to buy $5,000 worth of labour from someone? What is the difference between that and an organization that has an interest in the election -- like a union, it's been suggested -- giving their employees time off, paying them their full wages, and allowing them to go and work on the campaign? The first is reportable and has to be included in the spending limits; the second is not.
The New Democratic Party, in bringing forward this legislation, really needs to think about a name change. You know, if they really believe in democracy, I'm sure they clearly understand that this is an undemocratic action. It's an action that is designed for the sole purpose of bringing an advantage to their party that is not available, in the normal course of events, to other parties.
I know that it's all very well to say: "Well, a law firm, an oil company or whatever could give their people time off." I'm sure that, on occasions, that happens. But I'd like to suggest to you that the wages being paid to the people whose time was given off would not be tax-deductible. The company should, in fact, add that back as a non-deductible item, because clearly it isn't money laid out to earn income.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: What about self-employed?
F. Gingell: Salaried employees too, absolutely.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: No, self-employed.
F. Gingell: Oh, self-employed. They're not earning anything. They have given up their wages and act as volunteers. But all union dues are tax-deductible.
I see the Attorney General shaking his head. Has there been a change in the law so that union dues are not deduct-
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ible? You know perfectly well that if you are a lawyer and you quite practising law, or you're a chartered accountant and you quit practising your profession -- or an engineer or an architect -- and go and work as a volunteer on someone's campaign, no one is paying you. You make your living by selling time. I see a college teacher and a professional politician who clearly don't understand what the real world is like outside. If you don't go to work -- if you're a practising chartered accountant or lawyer and you don't turn up at the office, answer your telephone calls, respond to the letters and do the work -- you don't get paid.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: Unless you're paying yourself comfortably.
F. Gingell: How do you mean you pay yourself? Mr. Speaker, the Attorney General throws out: "How about if you pay yourself?" What a bunch of nonsense! You simply don't understand. I am really more concerned than ever. I mean, the Attorney General has brought forward a piece of legislation that is undemocratic and that goes against natural justice, and he doesn't understand the basic economic, financial arrangements that this world works within.
If you take time off.... If you are a college teacher and get leave of absence, you don't get paid. Right? You are, in fact, a true volunteer. If I am a chartered accountant -- I can assure you; I spent 20 years plying my trade -- and I don't go to work, I don't have any billable hours and nobody pays me. There isn't any nonsense about paying yourself. There isn't any magic "self." The only people who pay you are your clients.
An Hon. Member: You've missed the point.
F. Gingell: I haven't missed the point, Mr. Speaker. The Attorney General, to me, simply doesn't understand. All we are talking about here is that where people are allowed time off and are still paid their salaries or their wages or whatever, then that should be counted as election spending. It's required in municipalities. What could be fairer? You have the equal treatment of all parties. The analogy of paying the money to the party, and the party hiring the individual to work, is perfect. There is simply no difference whatsoever.
It also surprises me that the section that deals with the exclusions to reporting -- I think it's section 229 -- also excludes the costs of mailing and sending election material to members of your own organization. It goes on to say that that is the case whether it be a trade union or a corporation or a society, I think. Anyway, there is a series.
I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that no corporation would ever dream of sending a piece of partisan election material to its shareholders...
F. Gingell: ...or to its employees. Well, they may well have dealt with these issues when things were getting hot under the collar during NAFTA or the free trade agreement, and they may have done so after Charlottetown. But I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, having been a senior officer of a reasonably large corporation, that we simply would never dream of having the audacity, having the cheek, to send our employees suggestions about how they should vote. That's the one way you could get them to vote in the opposite direction. It simply doesn't happen.
We all know, however, that the situation with unions is somewhat different. So why do we make an exclusion? Why not leave the exclusion out? Why not just include all those types of disbursements as what they truly are -- third-party disbursements -- against which they have put a gag law. That is a typical way that a third party tries to influence an election and spends money doing it, and I understand that.
This bill has said that you can do this, but only up to the cost of $2,000. The member for Port Coquitlam -- I am sure the Speaker will remember -- was suggesting that if you didn't have that provision, this would be a way of getting around the spending limits. I understand that argument. I am not sure that I agree with the argument entirely, but I agree with your logic; it's logical and it is common sense. So does the cost of mailing information to employees, members of your union, members of your society, shareholders of your corporation, or whatever -- and there's no reason to have excluded them. Why have you excluded them? Or why do we think that you have excluded them? We think you've been partisan. We think that you have developed this bill in a partisan, unfair manner, somewhat like -- I've said it before in this House -- "The Curate's Egg," one of my favourite stories. It's a cartoon out of Punch where the curate is having lunch with the bishop, who is standing against the fireplace in his leggings -- a very imposing figure. The curate has opened his egg, and you can see some fumes coming out of it. The bishop says: "Richard, is there anything wrong with that egg?" And Richard says: "On no, my lord. I assure you, parts of it are excellent." That's just what this bill is: a curate's egg. Parts of it are good, but the parts that are bad have made the whole egg rotten.
M. de Jong: He's got egg on his face.
F. Gingell: Thank you, member for Matsqui. I shall use that: the Attorney General has egg on his face.
I think that this government has proved that it shouldn't have the responsibility for developing and passing an election act for its own level of government. I don't know who would pass the legislation for a federal act. It would have to be some higher deity, and I'm not quite sure where one would go to find one. This government did what was considered a reasonable job in the changes in the Municipal Act that dealt with elections, and it's a shame and a pity that they haven't followed through in dealing with this act.
The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi also raised an interesting issue with respect to the deductibility of political contributions. I'd like to suggest that it is, in fact, a closer tie than simply indirect. There is a major subsidy paid by the provincial government to political parties that allows there to be an arrangement by which individuals can increase their donations substantially to pay the same amount they were willing to pay out of their pockets. The limits for donations are relatively low. The total sums aren't that great, and that's probably good. That doesn't give the advantage to the people who are willing to make major contributions. But it does, I would hope, encourage more citizens to participate in the
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program, to participate in the political processes and to support the party of their choice. Supporting the party of their choice is an important function and creates the kind of commitment that political parties need to be able to operate in a sensible and successful manner.
The Leader of the Third Party brought up the issue of the requirement for balance sheets to be submitted along with revenue and disbursement statements for all groups. That would, of course, primarily deal with riding associations and the provincial party. I think that makes sense. One can always work out with care, if the reporting is accurate, what the assets are, purely and simply by analyzing and keeping track of the annual reports of receipts and disbursements. But I think that it is good for the public to have an understanding of the amounts of money involved and the amounts of money sitting in political parties.
I come to the issue, as I'm sure all speakers will -- we'll deal with the same issues; really, they are the only ones that are there -- of suppression of polling results. Many members of this House and people who follow politics closely give more credence than I do to poll results. I think they are somewhat similar to the attributes of computers, where people talk about how garbage in equals garbage out. When you look at some of the poll results that come out and you see how one particular polling agency that is looking at, say, the electability of a party to the British Columbia Legislature.... There are three firms, you know. One always has the NDP at a higher support level than the other two do. The second one always has the Reform Party at a higher level of support than the other two do. It's only the third one that agrees with them all and has the Liberal Party at the top of the level of support.
But if you go back, read the questions and look at the sequence in which they were asked, one understands how easy it is to set up polls in a manner to get the results you want. So one can quickly see that there are two types of polls: one that you want for the purpose of putting it out in the public and trying to influence more support for your party, and one where you are truly trying to understand and get a good feel for what the public believes on a certain issue. I guess the polls that we're concerned about in this bill, relative to the suppression of polling results without the express approval of the sponsor, are going to be those that deal with the issue of support for political parties.
In this day and age of instant communications, and in this day and age of leaks that various governments seem to suffer from, I think it's going to be very difficult to bring a sense of decorum, stability or common sense to the issue of the release and publication of polling results. Parties will be even more concerned with ensuring that the results are to their liking. They will be the ones that are pushed out and allowed to be published. The ones that don't conform or don't tell the story they are looking for will be suppressed, I am sure.
The real issue in polling is to have some standards that polling companies and media believe in, that ensure that polls are done in a fair and open manner and that the questions are designed in a manner that will bring some sense of balance to the results.
There is one other interesting thing that one always looks back on when it's been so many years since a bill has been revised. The old bill talked about a $100 fine and a week in jail for bad; if you were a little bit worse, it talked about a $250 fine and one month in jail. This bill talks about $5,000 and $10,000 fines and one and two years in jail. I appreciate that we live in inflationary times, but the inflation that has taken place, not so much in the level of fines but in the amount of time that is suggested as an appropriate maximum sentence for breaking the law, has, I think, been more than unreasonable. Of course, it is up to the courts to decide, and I, like my friends on this side, would never, ever try to second-guess what the courts will do. But it seems to me that when a bill puts in some levels of maximum penalties, it is setting the stage or creating a tone that it expects the courts to follow.
To sum up, what are the problems? The first problem is that I believe that this New Democratic Party, this government, has taken a partisan attitude to what should be a non-partisan matter. This is an important matter to all British Columbians, and it concerns me that they cannot be trusted to bring forth an act that can be considered fair.
The second problem with the bill is that all the disbursements, all the real costs and all the real resources that are committed to a campaign are not included in the spending limits. We -- or I -- agree with spending limits; I have no problem with spending limits at all, but they have to be done in a fair and equitable manner. I'll make sure that I have an opportunity to sit down with the Attorney General, perhaps in some more social atmosphere, where we can have a good discussion about who pays people when they're not working. Anyway, I'm sure we can have that discussion.
I'm not comfortable with the suppression of polling results. I'm not comfortable with polling at all, but I know that it's a fact of life -- and I feel discomfited by the way this is being done. We live in a world where information is power, so they say. We are inundated with information. MLAs, I know, and ministers doubly so, I'm sure, are inundated with letters, correspondence and information from all sorts of sources and have to be, to an extent, selective about what they deal with, what they read, what they respond to. They have to make arrangements so that other people make decisions about what they see, or they simply wouldn't have time to get all of their responsibilities looked after. So why do we suddenly put a gag and a brick wall -- a hurdle -- in the way of one of these forms of information?
I'm uncomfortable, as I said earlier, with the issue of the exclusion from spending limits of the cost of distributing information to union members from the union, or from corporations to their employees, or from corporations to their shareholders or from societies to their members. I think that if we are going to have spending limits, all the resources that are used in the course of the election should be counted. Those particular items would, of course, come under third-party issues, which are subject to the $2,000 limit -- a limit that, I understand from listening to people more knowledgable than I on this issue, may be subject to court challenges. Why do you treat a third party that advertises in the paper with an interest to support a particular party or candidate, or not to support a party or a candidate...? Why do you separate the people who pay for it in cash from this corporation, union or society that does it through their own organization? I appreciate that the audiences are different, but they are audiences nonetheless.
In the end, the result of this bill -- and I'm sure that this government is perfectly capable of passing it; it has sufficient votes -- will be that the government will suffer from the lack
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of consultation. They are going to suffer from the particular issues that we've raised, which will be seen by British Columbians as this party trying to fix the rules of the game to suit themselves. It doesn't matter, in my opinion, whether they fix the rules or not; they will have an uphill struggle to win the next game that will take place sometime before November 5, 1996. There was an opportunity for this government to bring forward an Election Act that they....
Deputy Speaker: Hon. member, I hate to tell you, but your time has expired.
F. Gingell: Thank you.
They could have been recognized for a document that they could have been proud of. I'm sorry to say that they failed.
Deputy Speaker: The member for Richmond-Steveston on a point of order.
A. Warnke: I notice that during the course of the evening.... Standing order 6 clearly illustrates that there should be a quorum during the debate, and there has been some very good debate so far this evening. I notice that we have not had a quorum. Naturally, it would be unwise to interrupt those speakers making their presentations, but I think now that the speaker has finished, I would like to see a quorum called.
Deputy Speaker: Your point is well taken, hon. member, and I will call a quorum.
The bells were ordered to be rung.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. members, there now being a quorum in the House, the Chair recognizes the member for Okanagan East. And, member for Delta South, a quorum does include the Chair.
J. Tyabji: To the members of the government who were hoping that that was the end of debate on this bill, I think they have another think coming.
It was with interest that I picked up Bill 28 when it was first tabled in the House. It made for good reading on a ferry ride. Many of us are used to finding something to read on those long ferry rides. Many things within this bill are new -- many things that I think are fairly progressive and many things that have been asked for for a long time. Anyone who followed some of the advertising during the free trade agreement debates, the third-party advertising during the NAFTA debates, the last two federal election campaigns and to some extent the last provincial campaign.... Third-party advertising became a very big issue. This is an interesting move by this government, and I certainly look forward to committee stage debate on that. That's one of the things we want to discuss in some detail in second reading. I expect to take a few minutes with my remarks and then move on to an amendment.
There's provision in this bill for polling and for some regulations around polling. I find it interesting that the government has been cartooned quite amusingly -- as an opposition member, I found the cartoons quite amusing -- with respect to a gag law and with respect to draconian measures; that word is being used by a number of pollsters for some of the changes that are being made to the Election Act with respect to polling. With respect to spending limits, that's probably where we'll hear a lot of the debate focused in this chamber. My only comment with respect to spending limits is that we didn't go far enough, if the objective was to ensure a level playing field. I don't know if that was the objective, but if it was, people in the Green Party, for example, would take issue with the spending limits being so high.
Having said that, those are the three main things that we're looking at in the controversial area. There's another thing that isn't going to come up very often in this chamber with respect to this bill -- and this is a bill with roughly 300 sections....
J. Tyabji: The Attorney General is saying 300-plus sections. It's a thick bill. It's a bill that will have an enormous impact on the machinery of democracy in British Columbia.
One aspect of this bill that hasn't been talked about very much in terms of the effect it will have was the aspect of introducing the very severe -- and I use that in a positive way -- machinery of auditing and accountability that is built into the bill. For that, the Attorney General should be very seriously congratulated, because this bill in effect removes what had previously been a potential for conflict of interest with the person who is the official agent, who may also be a partner in a firm conducting an audit. That was allowed before under the act, and in that scenario, a partner in a firm is hardly going to take exception to the statements coming out of an official agent who is also in the same firm. That just wouldn't make sense. But the law allowed it before and that did occur before. Under this bill that could no longer happen, and that's a major plus. That's one of those technical details.... It's not a sexy issue, it's not fun, you can't really make cartoons about it, but it will have a big impact in terms of how this bill will impact the use of democracy in British Columbia -- especially how each party will be held accountable by their membership or by members of other parties who would like to ensure that there is significant accountability. So that's an important step.
That's a step that I would only have read on a long ferry ride, because it is very difficult to get through. It is something that I was glad I had the time to read, because it is important. Having been in a situation and in a party where the old act did not provide that kind of protection, I'm happy that under this new act, if I was still a member in that party, I would have been able to ensure they were accountable.
D. Mitchell: If they'd let you. I'm not sure they would have. They would lock the door.
J. Tyabji: The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi is raising an important point about locking the door on a vote. What I found highly ironic, and I have to mention this while I'm on my feet, is that the members of what we call the Liberal opposition -- they are more like Socred Lite the way they've been coming across in their comments to the media -- have been making loud proclamations about free speech. I can't say with a straight face how ironic it is to hear that party talk about free speech in this chamber, when it's that party that
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continually blocks the ability of the leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance to respond to ministerial statements. It could be argued quite successfully that this is a party in which not one of those members would be holding a seat in the House if it weren't for the efforts of the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast. It is those members who continually block his freedom of speech in this House, and they have the audacity to stand up in this chamber and yell at the government for blocking free speech. Ah, the ironies of elected office are many!
J. Tyabji: The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi says that they're in denial, and that is true. There is something called projection; it's interesting, because those who yell loudest about curtailing freedom of speech are often the ones with the guiltiest consciences. I would certainly point that out in the case of the new Social Credit opposition over there, which certainly has very little resemblance to the party I worked so hard for. I worked hard at bake sales, car washes and all those things to try to assist the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast when he was the leader.
We talked a little about free speech. There is a lot of rhetoric being thrown about with respect to free speech, but one thing I hear a lot from my constituents is that if we are going to have rights in a democratic society, we must also have responsibilities. That must be brought into this debate: that if we are to have rights within a democratic system, we must have responsibilities with those rights. And how do we draw up those responsibilities? We draw them up by making sure that if there's going to be a poll, and if that poll is going to affect the way people are perceiving players within an election campaign, then that poll is represented in a responsible manner.
I can support that because I've seen the way polls can be used in politics, which is very much the art of perception. In politics, whoever has access to the electorate to the greatest extent and can create the best illusion will often be the person who succeeds the most. In this game, if the responsibilities of all players in the democratic process are not built into the Election Act, then we are all vulnerable.
In my first year of university, because I'm nerdish enough to have taken some courses I didn't have to take, I actually took a course in statistics. It had very little to do with a bachelor of arts degree. It was very difficult, and it had all kinds of graphs and things you had to do. In that course, I was taught that statistics can be made to say anything and that we should view polls with the highest degree of suspicion. Polls can be extremely valuable sources of information, but being a member of Generation X, I am extremely cynical about any poll of any kind whatsoever. The Speaker has mentioned that he is, too.
I note on the record that the Speaker was making comments about my tie when I started to speak. Green eggs and ham, I think, are perfectly acceptable in these chambers.
When I was taught to view those polls with the highest degree of suspicion, I was also taught that if they were to be of any value at all, you had to have the terms of reference. If you don't have the poll's terms of reference, you can't judge how relevant it is to whatever judgment you're trying to make. You can't plug it into what you're trying to decide. You don't even have the tools necessary to apply critical thinking.
It has been a frustration for me as an observer of politics that I will often open a newspaper and see a poll result. It is absolutely worthless to me if it doesn't give me the sample size, if it doesn't tell me which regions they canvassed, what the questions were, or the age brackets and other demographics of the people who had been canvassed.
The poor member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast is the recipient of many a diatribe on these things as we go on our long drives around the province debating the virtues of one poll or another. I've probably gone on at some length about the fact that I don't have access to that information, and without that access, the polls are useless. He is being very polite because he's probably in the camera view, but....
D. Mitchell: We don't want to hear about these domestic disputes.
J. Tyabji: That's right, though they're hardly disputes.
When I look to this section of the bill, my response to the Attorney General is that this is a good attempt. As somebody who needs that information to make a decision, I thank you very much, because now I may have a better idea about whether the poll will be relevant to a decision I'm trying to make. As a member of the public, that is helpful, and I would welcome that in the publications.
Now, I recognize that pollsters are not happy. Why would pollsters not be happy? Let's think about this for a minute. Who are pollsters? Do we have a plethora of independent pollsters in British Columbia? Do we have these people out there who are used by each political party separately and who are commissioned jointly by a bunch of political parties? Or do we have, instead, one pollster tied to one political party and another pollster tied to another political party? Do we, for example, have a shell game that goes on?
G. Wilson: Absolutely.
J. Tyabji: The leader of the Alliance says: "Absolutely." In fact, in B.C. I think we probably have the most extreme scenario of a close relationship between the partisan politics in this assembly, the partisan politics of the polling companies and the partisan politics of our media. I use that reference very purposefully, and I'll come back to it later.
But given the shell game of those players.... The three most important players in a democracy are the means of communicating to the public, which is the media; the political representatives or the people vying for office, who are trying to earn the voters' trust or receive the attention of the voters; and the pollsters, who of course are trying to assist whichever political party they're affiliated with -- and the more successful they are at assisting them, clearly the more lucrative their polling contracts become as they move down the line. We've seen that happen before.
When you're in that kind of shell game, the people who are most vulnerable to receiving the most ridiculously irrelevant information are the voters. That's who we're supposed to be here to serve; we're supposed to be trying to construct something with the voters as the paramount consideration. You know, in designing a democratic institution -- which we do to some extent in the Election Act, which we do through this parliamentary assembly and which we do to some extent as we represent our constituents in our constituency
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offices.... If we're trying to construct that institution, then just as when we're trying to construct an institution for the protection of children, we put the child as the paramount interest. Just as that is an inviolable law of natural justice in the creation of the Adoption Act and the Family Relations Act, then so too in this system of democratic construction must we have as its most important aspect at all times the protection of the voter. That's what democracy is all about.
If we don't have that, and if we don't have a system that will assist the voters in making an intelligent, informed decision, and if we don't have a system that protects them from the kind of garbage that we see fed out -- sometimes through elected members; sometimes through the media; sometimes through a contrived letter that's supposed to be from the Minister of Health; sometimes through a fictitious tape of nicknames that is broadcast through the media as if it actually exists -- and if these things are allowed to continue, then we deny the voters access to reliable information. Polls are often used the same way; they'll be used to the advantage or disadvantage of people within that system.
So, if anything, I would say that if we're putting the voters first, we haven't gone far enough. I'm not talking about draconian measures or tying everybody up in red tape; I'm talking about setting the standards by which the voters have access to reasonable information.
I think the leader of the Alliance might have more to say on the role of the media, but I said I'd come back to it. I'd like to take a minute, because I have had some experience with the media in British Columbia, and that experience, I think, has given me a different perspective on this bill than I might otherwise have had. What I find in British Columbia is selective reporting and a selective presentation to the voters. It is that selective reporting, which someone more cynical than I am might call censorship.... I won't use that word today, because I choose selective reporting.
But with selective reporting, what do we do? Let's use this legislative session as an example. In this legislative session, I believe we have had the heaviest session of legislation that we have had in the whole time since I was elected, in terms of the ideology of the government, in terms of the fulfilment of election promises, in terms of commitments made during this term and almost in terms of bringing closure to the legislative package that will be the legacy of this government. And for that I would offer congratulations to the government for making some commitments and coming through on them.
I might disagree with the government; I might stand in my place and argue passionately against it. But I would respect that they're going to do what they're say they're going to do -- in some aspects; I don't say that they've lived up to all of them, but in some aspects of their legislation, they've done that. So we have had in this Legislature probably the heaviest session since the election in 1991. And how much of the debates of these chambers has been covered in the selective reporting of the media?
D. Mitchell: Not much; virtually none.
J. Tyabji: Not much. I can't even think of one debate in this chamber. Of course, if I continue to slag them, they might get a little sensitive. Then they can bash me around a bit tomorrow -- but I doubt it, because I don't think they're paying attention.
D. Mitchell: Question period is not a debate.
J. Tyabji: Question period is not a debate, that's right. The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi is absolutely correct. This precinct has been so badly abused in terms of the parliamentary process. It is so badly abused. Do you know who looks bad? Every single elected member of this assembly. Every single one of us has to go back to our ridings and apologize for the kind of ridiculous behaviour that goes on in this House. I have to apologize, and I'm sickened by it every day.
You know, people asked me in the session.... They started to notice that I was coming in late for question period, so I got asked. This is the one question I've had from the press gallery in the whole session: "How come you're always late?" -- thinking there must be something. I said that it's because I feel physically ill when I sit through question period. The reason I do is that when I ran for office in the last election, I committed not to do that.
When the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast stood up as leader of the Liberal Party and said, "I commit to constructive debate; I commit to changing the way things are done in British Columbia; I commit to you that I will serve with integrity," I believed he would show that kind of leadership. Certainly, when he was Leader of the Opposition, I believe he did that. It made for a boring question period, admittedly. But I don't know that the people of this province are looking to their politicians for entertainment. My constituents aren't; they don't care if I entertain them. Notwithstanding 1993, they prefer it when I'm dealing with my constituency issues; so do I.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
When I look at this erosion of the democratic process through this legislative chamber, when I look at the kind of garbage that gets raised in 15 minutes four days a week in question period, I lament. I lament as a member of this province, as a voter and as a taxpayer. I lament for the waste of my tax dollars. I lament for the promises I made in 1991 that.... Through a ridiculous partisan process, I've been prevented from fulfilling those commitments in the position of member of the official opposition. But I stand here proudly, knowing that I can stand up in the next election and say: "Everything I said I would do, I have done."
I hope some of the protections brought up in this act are going to assist me in sifting through the verbiage that's going to come down like a ton of bricks in the next election. I would be remiss in speaking to this Election Act -- and I am speaking in favour of it; I should put that on the record -- if I didn't relate to the House my experiences in Abbotsford. I feel like a student coming back after summer break. What did I learn in the Abbotsford by-election? Well, I haven't had a chance to speak about this very often in this House.
But I actually, as a member of the Progressive Democratic Alliance, went out and helped scout a candidate. Did we have a candidate? We had the best candidate. The candidate we had in the Abbotsford by-election is a school trustee who is intelligent, articulate, constructive and committed to her community. She was born and raised in Abbotsford. She's an
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excellent debater. She has good ideas. If it cost her her office, she wouldn't sway from a position if she believed in it. That's the kind of people whom we're trying to recruit and, in fact, whom we are recruiting to our new party, modest as it is. We're bringing in some very fine candidates.
D. Mitchell: Would she have ducked votes in the House?
J. Tyabji: Our candidate.... The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, raises an excellent question. He asked: "Would she have ducked votes in the House?" Under no circumstances would she have ducked her responsibilities as an elected member. I find it interesting.... The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi raised an important point. Today we had a vote in this chamber where one of the backbenchers for the NDP raised an excellent comment. He said: "Well, I guess it was important for that Abbotsford by-election to be held." Everybody laughed, because we remembered that the Liberal opposition pushed this Premier -- pushed him and pushed him -- to have that by-election, and since then the elected member has ducked almost every vote of significance in the House, which is a disgrace.
Our candidate in that by-election wouldn't have ducked anything. In fact, she would have spoken with conviction. Her speeches in her riding would have matched her voting record in the House. Cathy Goodfellow would have been an outstanding member of this assembly. Almost daily I lament that we didn't have the opportunity to present her to the people as a viable option. Why didn't we? That's the question. Why was she not perceived as a viable option?
Let's talk about polls for a second. This is important. What did I learn in the Abbotsford by-election? Not only was I there for the recruitment and nomination processes, but I was an active campaigner. I found an incredible level of support for the leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance and for our new candidate, but the one thing they kept saying was: "We just don't know where your party is going to stand."
We did some polling ahead of time. We found ourselves at a modest level of about 8 percent, and there were about 40 percent undecided. We thought, "Jeez, we might take 10 percent in this by-election," in a riding that.... Even when the Liberals swept to the opposition benches under the leadership of the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, we didn't take Abbotsford; it stayed Social Credit. So it's not exactly a riding where you can make radical breakthroughs.
Roughly a week before the by-election date, a poll -- it was called a poll -- was published on the front page -- the top story. The headline was: "Two-Way Race to the Finish Line." Two way. This pollster, who was a heavily partisan pollster with questionable methodology, had managed to have his results printed on the front page as the top story, and the momentum in our campaign stalled. In the advance polls we were actually sitting at about 6 percent, because it didn't damage us that much. By the time that pollster published his second poll on the front page, as the top story, we dropped to 3 percent. That's unfortunate.
But 3 percent is not bad for a brand-new party that had never challenged anything and that had a very low budget. There was a 43 percent voter turnout in Abbotsford. Afterwards a number of people said to our candidate, Cathy Goodfellow: "We thought you were the best, but since it was a two-way race, we voted against the Reform Party because of the comments about public lashings." The number of people who came out and said, "We were frightened by the Reform option, and therefore we parked our votes with the Liberals," was unbelievable.
We saw what kind of money went into that by-election campaign by the Liberal opposition -- or the New Socreds or Socred Lite or whatever you want to call them. I don't know how they can call themselves Liberal given the candidates that they've been nominating.
We also saw a lot of people in the Reform Party who were good grass-roots workers. They were not the kind of reactionary right-wingers that we see characterized in the popular press all the time. They were desperate for some sort of grass-roots change. Those people were there during the by-election, and many of them were discouraged by the results. They just felt that it was a two-way race, no one had an even playing field and they were out-machined by the money that came in through the Liberal Party.
What did I learn in the Abbotsford by-election? I learned a lot. I learned how directly influential polls can be in the absence of other outside factors. That was not a general election campaign; that was not a campaign where the leader had a prominent role; that was not a campaign where people had a clear choice of what was out there.
G. Wilson: It was in the absence of fair coverage.
J. Tyabji: It was definitely in the absence of fair coverage. There was a decision made that other than what they were calling the main parties -- the NDP, the Liberals and the Reform -- everybody else would be the also-rans, and they'd be treated as marginal. I would wager that if the NDP had not been the party in government, they wouldn't have been accorded a chance. The NDP were only allowed into that top three because they were the government. It was grudgingly given, and in many cases their candidate was very poorly treated. I as a British Columbian apologize for the treatment he received; he deserved better than that. He did a credible job.
We in this country are entering dangerous times. Many people who have followed the way things are going recognize that we're at a crossroads in terms of not just our democratic institutions but our social institutions, educational institutions and financial institutions. Some people would include the institution of the family, however that might be constituted in the future. All of these things are at a crossroads. We're at a major time of upheaval.
Many of us who have followed the evolution of Canada in the last ten years are very concerned. We're concerned about whether or not we will even have choices in the future such as we face today with respect to our social policies. What kind of social safety net can evolve if we constantly hear from the reactionary right? What kind of constructive debate can we have if we hear only personal attacks, if we see mudslinging, if we see everything degenerate to the base of name-calling so that the actual items and perspectives in debate are lost in an emotional feeding-frenzy that does nobody any good?
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I see this act, Bill 28, as an important first step. Given the political climate that we're in right now, it's a courageous step for this government to take. I applaud the Attorney General for not backing down in the face of an onslaught of very self-interested commentary from pollsters who say, "Don't restrict polling" -- that's not a hard one to predict -- and from the media, who say, "Don't restrict the media and don't restrict advertising" -- that's not a hard one to predict. If I were in the media, I would criticize the government for trying to restrict my revenue. We can never forget that elections are a very lucrative time for media outlets. By-elections are very lucrative for the local media. I'm sure they didn't forget that in their coverage, although our candidate got some excellent coverage from one of the local papers.
When I say that we live in interesting and dangerous times, what I'm referring to is whether each of us, individually and collectively, will lose the ability to have any constructive, meaningful input into the evolution of our society -- although within my own riding, things look pretty good. I've worked hard. The polls look pretty good, but I don't know what I can expect in the next election campaign.
In terms of my own spending capacity, I know that I'm not going to be able to spend much more than I did in the last election campaign, which was roughly $8,000. I can't do much better than that. Now, given that I can't do that, what can I expect from the other parties? I can expect that at least two of them are going to be able to meet the maximum limits set out in this bill. That makes me a little worried, not because my life depends on my re-election -- not at all. I just want to ensure that my constituents understand that they have a choice, and I don't know if I'll be able to do that if we get the kind of campaigning that we saw in Abbotsford going on on a provincial level.
I've said that the media in British Columbia are not independent of the political process, and I stand by that. I have yet to see them be independent of the political process. I would like to put on the record that in many instances this government has been very poorly treated by the media. I may have been as unkind as the media, but it would have been on different issues. I would have gone after issues of substance rather than personal attacks, and I would have focused more on the actual point of what's happening. To some extent, some of the media have been doing that by taking apart the bills, but that requires effort and work. It may not make the front page, because people aren't that interested in it. It's not as interesting as the Bernardo trial or the O.J. Simpson trial. It's not as interesting as something that people can take from human experience.
As I bring my remarks to a conclusion, I think the one shortcoming in this bill is that we haven't had the time to go over it. Certainly my constituents haven't, and I'd like to hear from them before we move further. I recognize that this government is nearing the end of its mandate, but I'd like to move an amendment to this bill, an amendment that every time it has been moved so far in this parliamentary session hasn't succeeded -- but there's always a first time. Hon. Speaker, I move that this bill not now be read a second time, but that it be referred to a Committee of the Whole House for study and discussion and that it be taken to the public, where through a process of public meetings, the public's views may be heard.
I do that in the public's interest, because many of us would like to have direct input into the deliberations leading to a final bill and also into the regulations of the bill, and because I believe it's a very, very important institution, and we're trying to assist in its evolution. Because of that, I think we have to ensure that the best brains of the province are all brought forward in a public way, so that we can have more input.
I recognize that these amendment motions aren't always successful, but the Attorney General might want to consider that we do have an opportunity to come back next year. The government has said -- or at least we're pretty sure it has -- that there will be at the very least a budgetary session next year. If we do come back for a budget debate next year, what better way for this government to go out than after a year of public hearings. My guess would be that if we did throw this open to public debate, what the Attorney General would get is a request for stronger limitations, more specific information for polling and lower spending guidelines. In fact, he may end up crafting in this institution of democracy that is the Election Act a much better version of what we have in front of us. That in itself might neutralize those critics who are trying to talk about unilateral action and heavy-handedness and draconian measures. Perhaps if people could only see how jaded and cynical the public is and how desperate it is for meaningful reform -- some of which is represented in this bill.... If they had an opportunity to give that input, we could have a very constructive process. That might take the Attorney General off the hook as far as what he would table for debate in the next session is concerned.
Deputy Speaker: Member, before I recognize the member for Powell River-Sunshine Coast, I must advise you that I don't believe that your amendment is in order. The practice is that one cannot refer a bill to the Committee of the Whole unless one is, in fact, the mover of the bill -- i.e., a minister. Rather, the standard motion is to refer the subject matter of the bill to a committee of the House -- that kind of motion or the pro forma motions: the hoist motions or reasoned amendments. But your motion as written, I'm sorry, isn't acceptable.
J. Tyabji: Then perhaps I could.... I'm not sure what the process would be for this, but with leave....
Deputy Speaker: I'm sorry, member. Having spoken now, you no longer have the floor. I'm sorry, I can't acknowledge you.
J. Tyabji: On a point of order, then, if I had realized that my amendment was out of order before I finished speaking, I would have changed the amendment.
Deputy Speaker: That's a note of regret rather than a point of order. I'm sorry, member, I can't do anything about that.
D. Mitchell: Just rising on a point of order, I'm not sure, but the sense of the House might be to offer leave to have the amendment worded in the way that the Chair prefers. Certainly if leave would be requested to do that, that might allow us to simply proceed with the debate.
Deputy Speaker: I am obviously the servant of the House and....
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Deputy Speaker: A member is suggesting to me: shall leave be granted to entertain another motion? I am willing to put the question if members so wish. Shall leave be granted to entertain another motion?
Some Hon. Members: Aye.
An Hon. Member: Nay.
Deputy Speaker: I hear a nay. I'm sorry, members.
A. Warnke: Basically, I have just a few comments -- a combination of comments and concerns. I think that there is enough of a concern here that makes me really question.... Naturally, in questioning the legislation that has been proposed here, I will listen to the Attorney General in his summary remarks as well.
The Election Act introduces changes into the election process. The purpose of a bill such as this is to improve the election process. Now, where does the improvement lie? When we take a look at the elements of the election process, what I'm looking for is an improvement in the quality of campaigns and campaigning and in how political parties contribute to campaigns.
I must admit that I'm not the greatest proponent of political parties. It has been expressed in this country on occasion that what we need to do is give further recognition to political parties rather than to candidates. There are political systems -- Germany obviously comes to mind -- where, in fact, voters have two ballots: one to elect their candidates and one to select the party of their choice. Then, according to some system of proportional representation -- and there are very different models, incidentally -- seats are allocated according to the success of a political party on the zweistimme, or the second ballot. Some people in this country and this province have advocated this as a good system; it has its merits, but I want to point out one thing -- and oddly enough, it pops up in this bill.
When we allow political parties and party lists to dictate who is elected to this chamber and who represents the people, it is done according to party lists. Sometimes it means that there is a strong pecking order within a political party, and it's sometimes darned hard to get rid of a few people you want to see out of there. The British parliamentary tradition, which this House follows, makes it very clear that each and every individual who is elected to this House is still elected on their own merit, at least to the extent that people indicate with an X or some other symbol their preference for that particular candidate.
This will be the last time I'll talk about a section, but it is in the context of a principle as well. I did note that section 91 sets up a precedent for marking a ballot that states which political party the voter prefers, in the absence of the name of the candidate. That alone is not a bad idea, and perhaps if we simply had dialogue at committee stage later on, we could debate it and perhaps the minister would respond accordingly. But I see in that a precedent I'm not too pleased with: if we want to protect the parliamentary system -- and there are people who really disagree.... In British Columbia and in Canada, there are people who disagree with parliamentary democracy and want the system changed to something else. I haven't seen any proposal that suggests anything better than the parliamentary system. The parliamentary system has warts, and I recognize that, but I'm sometimes concerned by the alternative models that have been proposed. Here in this particular section, I see an emphasis that is really in favour of the political party. As a result, when you combine it with a number of the sections within this proposed bill, I see a shift in favour of political parties at the expense of individual candidates.
Being a member of a political party, I suppose it is not my role to stick up for independents, but I've also had some experience with and sometimes the necessity of supporting independent candidates. I do not think that any move that does not allow for independent candidates or that dissuades or discourages them is really the direction to go. We have to take a look at the purpose of our system in the parliamentary tradition. For the historical record, political parties have not always been around in the British parliamentary tradition. They have only evolved, at best, in the last 200 years. There have been factions and groups and that sort of thing, but not political parties, which are really a phenomenon of the twentieth century.
What I look for is whether there is something in this bill that improves the quality of campaigns with regard to political parties and with regard to involving voters. Is there anything in this bill that improves how the political process serves voters? Is there anything here that improves the involvement of interest and pressure groups? Most important, I suppose, in the last analysis, when people are being elected, is there anything in this bill that really improves the quality of campaigning, that ensures the selection of the best candidates?
At best, I could evaluate this and say that there really aren't that many changes. And, on occasion, when we take a look at the involvement of voters and interest groups, I would say that this bill does not improve those kinds of qualities. In fact, there has been an argument put forward already by some members of this House that it actually infringes on the involvement of interest groups.
I'm not in love with interest groups, but I have tremendous faith in people. I have tremendous faith that the democratic system, the democratic process, does work and that people will cut through all the nonsense, the rhetoric and the propaganda. For the most part, they are not as manipulable as some people might assume they are. People in general are quite intelligent. Indeed, you have to have faith in the people that they are such; that's certainly the premise that I operate from.
Also in terms of the election process, does it improve the quality of the process? Does it improve fairness? Does it maintain the integrity and confidence that the voters must have in the process? Does this bill combat abuses?
I can think of one example where this bill does not combat abuse, and that is right at the ballot box. I know of certain circumstances where individuals who are members of political parties not only go into residences of the more senior members of our community but actually into places where people are really severely handicapped. I know of the experience where someone goes around and says, "This is where you mark your ballot," and that sort of thing. That, I think, is an abuse; I think everyone can see that it is an abuse. I think people who engage in that kind of behaviour know they're
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abusing the system. Somehow, I would like to see that addressed. I know that it goes on.
In terms of whether it improves the involvement of those who are not directly involved in the election process: people such as pollsters, the press, the media, interest groups, pressure groups.... Does this bill improve these people's involvement in the political process? I see penalties. Heaven knows there are pollsters out there who do attempt to make a fast buck, I suppose. Maybe that's putting it too crudely. There are some very sophisticated pollsters as well, who, by their name.... I suppose once it hits the news media and so on.... It's a form of advertising.
There are certainly press and media who take advantage, who manipulate or attempt to manipulate, who twist the facts and all the rest of it. We know that they exist, but the idea, really, is not to move in the direction whereby one's basic freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom to put forward one's ideas are penalized. Rather, what can be done to improve the involvement of pollsters, the press, media, interest groups, advocacy groups and pressure groups in our political system? Really, the bill does not address that adequately.
Does it address the question of contributions and expenditures, in terms of accountability? It has made an improvement. This is where I would agree, actually, with two members. They pointed out that when it comes to leadership races, those who run for leader of a political party disclose their contributions and expenditures. I think that's most appropriate, but I have no trouble.... I myself have gone through that experience, and I had no difficulty whatsoever making public all of my contributions and expenditures, both in the 1991 election, incidentally, as well as in the leadership race.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to the general election campaign itself, I note that all members who are elected and all those who are not successful in an election have to file the contributions with their respective electoral officer, and there are receipts given out to those who contribute. Now, if this expands on that a little bit, fine and fair enough. But the argument that's put forward in defence of this bill is: "Well, we're really updating things. The old act was put together in 1920, and things have changed since then."
The reality is that there have been some changes; there have been some interesting, constructive changes in the electoral system. One thing that British Columbia can pride itself on -- for more than ten years, actually about 15 years -- is the system of a permanent registry. I just dislike the old system, if you want to call it that, of essentially getting people out of their homes, knocking on doors and building up enumeration lists. As a matter of fact, I know firsthand from having been a candidate in the 1988 federal election that, once again, a lot of mistakes are made in enumerating.
The most comical -- well, I don't know if it's comical, but odd, I suppose -- was one enumerator who was given the task of signing up voters in New Westminster. Having been given the map of the boundaries, that person just followed the path of where the boundaries were marked and not all the homes and apartments within it, and quite a few people were missed off the list. I guess it has its comedy of errors; that's a simple mistake that I suppose has been done. But I think anyone who has gone through the process knows the difficulty of enumerating.
For some time now, British Columbia has been a leader in this country in terms of developing permanent lists and banking lists, although it's still very difficult in an age of tremendous mobility of people -- in and out of ridings, transferring to different ridings, and so on -- to keep people up to date. But British Columbia has been very good in that regard.
Indeed, British Columbia has been seen as somewhat successful in other areas. Some provinces ignore political parties and their involvement in the political system altogether, at least until recently. Alberta, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island come immediately to mind, where some of the issues that we're addressing in this bill are just not addressed at all. British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec have had a history for the past couple of decades of at least addressing concerns during the campaign -- where political parties fit in and how they should meet certain legal obligations. Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan are three provinces that examine the role of a political party between elections. That is certainly a direction in which we should go, and that's the direction we're headed in.
Therefore -- as always, I suppose -- with a large comprehensive bill such as this, there are certain sections that can be seen as contributing to or enhancing the political system. But I think there are a number of concerns. What does it do in terms of addressing the whole issue of being able to express oneself freely during a campaign? I don't have any love for the National Citizens' Coalition. As a matter of fact, I've had some -- not problems with them.... I have just tried to ignore them, basically. I actually suspect that most Canadians.... Again, it's this faith that one has to have in the democratic system, and faith in the majority of people to see that: "Okay, the National Citizens' Coalition is there to advocate a certain point of view." You know, people are pretty wise. They understand where a group such as that is coming from. They can see through their agenda and respond accordingly. Sometimes, despite the fact that they spend a lot of bucks, they really don't have as much impact as we sometimes try to give them credit for.
So in that sense I'm not as paranoid, perhaps, or as concerned about some of these groups in terms of their ability to express themselves, or in terms of even listing a number of candidates who they say we should support. I know they're not going to put my name on there....
A. Warnke: ...and probably not the hon. member's, as well, so we have something in common there. Sometimes we don't even ask for it, and we would probably wish it away if that were to happen.
I do not see the attempt to perhaps curtail advocacy groups and interest groups as a very positive step. I think there are other ways to deal with this. As well, I'm concerned about what the basis of a political party is in terms of volunteers, and in terms of people's commitments to political parties. I do believe that a lot of volunteers should really involve themselves in a political party. We must encourage people to become part of the political process, to become part of a political party and to support their candidate or a party. If they want to switch allegiances, so be it, but I think what we have to do is encourage the volunteer base of political parties.
I share with some members a concern, I suppose, that this bill might actually favour one party over another. As a matter
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of fact, I would like to see a political system encouraged where as many people as possible are really encouraged to support a variety of candidates -- independents, fifth or sixth parties, or whatever -- and to be able to express themselves and feel free to become more involved in the political process. I think that is extremely important, and I do have some concerns that the bill is restricting activities, movements, expression and so on.
But this bill does not address some of the abuses of the political system, and there's all this fuss over polling. When I take a look at pollsters, many times they are wrong anyway. As a matter of fact, you don't have to go very far to see that the polling that is done just prior to an election does not match the actual election outcome. Frankly, I don't see what's so great about polling -- other than it's a lazy way for the media to get a story, I suppose. When there's a slow day or what not, they can always come up with the latest poll results and announce them, and everybody is agog. As a matter of fact, we put far too much emphasis on polling. By the same token, I don't think we should move toward thwarting polling in any sort of way.
If anything, much like interest groups, polling is there. When the polls are down -- and I well remember when Liberal Party polling fortunes were pretty awful -- you just accept it. Meanwhile, you still forge some sort of direction ahead. You move on and try to improve your fortunes. The reverse is also true, I would warn: when the polling between elections is too high, you can also drop. What's polling, then? I think the fuss over polling and the concerns about polling that we see in this bill are maybe excessive and invite something that we really do not want. Along with that, one wonders whether there will be constitutional or legal challenges. I know that before the Attorney General brings this bill into the House he has to feel confident that the bill will go through the legal process, but that's just one view. The other view can easily be stated that a good lot of this -- where it applies to polling, freedom of expression and allocating funds to support an advocacy group -- could be deemed unconstitutional. It's really worthwhile to warn the Attorney General of those possibilities.
Where I look for improvements to the electoral process, I really don't find it. I find very, very little, especially compared to some of the trade-offs -- some of the negative features about this bill. One member describes it as a comparison of the good, the bad and the ugly. I note that while I was listening to the good qualities of this bill there was some hedging of bets: it wasn't bad, but it was not perfect; or it could be improved on, and so forth. So it's almost the poor, the bad and the ugly in this particular case. But if you want to use those terms, there is enough ugliness or there are enough very serious problems with the bill that I think it warrants a really serious re-examination. I want to see an electoral system that ensures no abuse. I want to see an electoral system that ensures fairness for all candidates, regardless of their political stripe: independents, or members of a small or large political party. We want to see a system that really works.
There are some other aspects as well, in terms of expenditures and contributions. I want to follow up on what I said a little while ago with regard to that. There is something to be said, as one member puts it, that at the federal level, anyone who has contributed over $100 receives a tax receipt. I would like to see the $250 limit conform to the $100 level. In some ways, a donation of $100 in British Columbia appears on the tax form where it's applicable. I've often had trouble with it, because I must admit that out of all the donations I've made to a political party and to campaigns, at the provincial level I haven't really received anything; I've not even received one cent in terms of a tax break from that. But that's life. That's part of our taxation system as well. But I would like to see that changed to $100. That's very fair.
I would like to see it, essentially, more clarified than what the bill has here as to who the official agents.... There is such a thing as an official agent; that's defined. But there are a couple of sections, if the Attorney General notes, that when you take a look at the various members on a campaign team, there is enough vagueness there that one may have an official agent.... Incidentally, I highly recommend to every candidate to have an official agent. But every candidate doesn't have to have an official agent; there are other representatives, and all the rest of it as well. There's just enough vagueness here that I would really like to see it tightened up.
So I'm not really pleased with this bill. There is a lot here that needs tremendous redrafting and improvement. I prefer not even a hoist; I would just like to see the Attorney General withdraw the bill altogether. If the Attorney General wants to redraft a bill, where it expands some of the sections that are positive -- and leadership campaigns certainly fall under that -- then I would be quite willing to support the Attorney General. But it's a big bill with a lot of flaws in it. With the bill as it's presented right now, I would prefer that the Attorney General just pull it off altogether.
I confess that I wish I was the designated speaker, because perhaps I could have elaborated on the point entirely. But given the number of the problems with regard to expenditures, registration, what to do with political parties, the polling area...I think that's adequate enough. We really need to have an entirely new look at this bill.
H. Giesbrecht: I rise to take my place on second reading of Bill 28, the Election Act. I would like very briefly to simply make some comments on what I think have been probably the three most contentious issues, according to the opposition and some of the media, in terms of this bill. I want to say at the outset that I am naturally going to support the bill. It's a good bill, and it's long overdue.
But the opposition has raised a few points, and I thought I might respond to them. One of them, of course, has to do with the issue of polling limits. I say "polling limits" because that was the term that one of the members used when they were referring to this particular issue. It's not really limits at all; it's more like polling information plus. I never thought I'd hear anyone argue against giving the public valuable background information on polling results, yet that's what I heard for some part of this debate today. I never thought I'd hear anybody say the public shouldn't have more information -- or more of the factual information -- on some of these things, so that they can make an informed decision about the validity of the information being presented, but that's what occurred.
I submit that the public should have all the facts. The media is fond of saying the public should have all the facts. The opposition keeps demanding, on political issues of far less substance than the Election Act, that the public should have all the facts. But now they argue that requiring the publication of the methodology of a poll is just too much. The Reform
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leader even claimed that it would be much too onerous for the media to do this -- too onerous to add a few more lines in the pages about how the results were arrived at.
Given the coverage of some of the hokey, phony memo of the other day, it surprised me. If that can produce that kind of ink, surely it would be not an unreasonable request to think the media would also want to deliver a little bit of the background data for any polling result. This bill would certainly provide for a lot more factual information, and that's a lot more honest than it has been in the past. Without knowing their methodology, polls are manipulative. Those who want to continue releasing invalid, poorly run polling results simply want to manipulate public opinion to their advantage. Whether it comes from the opposition or from some of the media, it's as simple as that.
The second point has to do with workers on leave not being included in the spending limits. I want to say that I listened with some interest to this. The bill provides that the same rules apply to all parties, whether you are in the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Reform Party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance or are even an independent. It seems that the same rules should apply for all. They should also apply to unsalaried workers. Obviously, that's a very difficult problem. They should apply to lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, used car dealers and a host of others that the opposition seems to want to exclude from consideration.
If we were to do as the opposition suggests, we would have a different set of rules for ordinary salaried working men and women -- again. This has continued for some time now. It's kind of a self-serving argument from the opposition, and it should be rejected as such. The provision, as I said, applies to all campaigns, and it applies evenly and equally throughout.
The third controversial issue.... I should say that I'm trying to rag the puck a little, because I'm really hoping that the opposition leader will make it back from wherever he is and participate in this debate. I rather doubt that he's going to show up, but I'm going to give him that opportunity anyway.
The third issue has to do with spending limits for third-party groups. In this bill a candidate is held to a certain spending limit: $50,000 for the constituency. He or she is front and centre and debating all the issues in an election campaign. They are being held accountable; they're taking political and financial risks; they're presenting a choice to the voter. We expect the voter to be able to make an intelligent, rational decision based on the policies and the visions that are presented by each of the political parties.
The problem, of course, is that frequently you have some sniping from the sidelines by people who have nothing at stake in terms of that election. There are special interest groups and single-issue groups, and there are a whole bunch of them out there. These groups can involve themselves in a campaign, and the candidate, with spending limits, must defend himself or herself from all of the attacks that come from all sides -- not just those that appear on the platform with him but all of the others. With limited resources, then, you control the spending of the candidate. But the opposition suggests that you shouldn't control the spending of any of the other groups. That doesn't make any sense.
Nothing prevents these groups from doing their public information campaign before an election is even called. Nothing prevents them from engaging in free speech -- nothing at all. It simply says that during an election campaign, where the voters are asked to make a very clear choice in terms of what is presented before them, they are allowed to do that without all of the smokescreens and all of the other stuff that might go on there. It doesn't deny free speech at all, because the individual in that third-party interest group can still raise the issues at a public meeting, so the candidates still have to respond to them.
The group can spend $2,000. Given enough volunteers, it's a pretty sizeable amount in any constituency. I can assure anybody here that in Skeena, for example, if this is a little more than one very small special interest group, the $2,000 could have a sizeable impact.
The bill probably doesn't go far enough to ensure that the debate in an election is carried on by those offering a viable choice to the voter. It's a very good bill. Unfortunately.... I wanted to keep this short. I suggest that it's high time the issues were dealt with, and I am pleased to support the bill.
M. de Jong: I'm pleased to rise and participate in second reading debate on the Election Act. I want to begin by making the observation that the Election Act, like much legislation that guides our behaviour in the province, tends to be something we take for granted. I think that's a positive commentary on the legitimacy that our electoral process has acquired over the years. In the elections I have been involved in as a candidate, and in the ones before that simply as a voter, I have often thought, as I put my X on the ballot and gave the ballot to the returning officer or put it in the ballot box, that I had no doubt that the box would be opened, that my ballot would be counted, that it would be counted fairly and that whether the person I was supporting was elected or not, the process had a legitimacy. I understood and accepted the outcome, and I understood, accepted and had confidence in the fact that the process was being undertaken in the proper way, and that my vote would count and be counted fairly.
I think that is something that most British Columbians and most Canadians feel when they vote, be it at the civic, provincial or federal level. Whatever level of government, our process has acquired that legitimacy, and that is a far cry from what exists in many other jurisdictions. Members of this House have travelled to other parts of the world. I think members of this House have even been part of observation teams in countries where it's necessary to have a team of observers watch and record abuses in the electoral process. We have heard stories where ballot boxes are being tampered with and where the process doesn't have that legitimacy, and thank goodness that is not the case in this province.
But it begins long before individuals mark their X on the ballot. The process has a legitimacy because we have developed a set of rules and guidelines over time around which campaigns are run and around which political parties govern themselves between campaigns, to some extent. To that extent, our election laws continue to evolve. This Election Act represents the most recent chapter in that evolving process. To that extent, the Attorney General deserves recognition for having introduced the bill and carried us to that next stage in the evolution of our electoral process.
Sadly, there are several areas in the bill that I'm not able to support, but I want to emphasize that to the extent our Election Act needed changes to the set of rules and guidelines governing the behaviour of political parties and candidates
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through elections and election campaigns, and to the extent that it required some additional and updated regulation to take account of changes in technology, the fact that the Attorney General has seen fit to respond in a very comprehensive way is worthy of recognition and support.
That support ends, unfortunately, where we come to sections in the act which I say are hypocritical and smack of hypocrisy. Nowhere is that more clear than in the sections of the act that deal with volunteers -- or paid volunteers, as they are referred to -- offering services in kind. It was only a few short years ago that this government introduced amendments to the Municipal Act to govern the electoral process and disclosure requirements insofar as local elections were concerned. Those amendments were introduced and passed and placed an onus on candidates who, in most instances, do not have the resources of political parties or party machinery, who don't have the supporters, the official agents, the accountants and the lawyers, and who don't have the support network that many other candidates at the provincial and federal level have who represent parties large and small. Yet it imposed on those civic officials a very onerous reporting obligation. It obligated them to report moneys received, moneys spent and every aspect of their campaign. It required them to disclose and recognize contributions of labour by what I call paid volunteers.
The government presumably believed that that was consistent with their notion of disclosure. The government introduced it, presumably supported it, and it's interesting....
An Hon. Member: They voted for it.
M. de Jong: They voted for it. We've heard nothing from the government as to whether their view has changed. Is it now the government's view that that was a mistake? Is it the government's view that they imposed an obligation on civic candidates that was too onerous, unfair and inappropriate? I've waited with interest to hear from the government side of this House what their view of that legislation is. By their silence, they say quite clearly: "Don't do as I do, but do as I say. It's good enough for you local politicians. You have this requirement, you have this obligation to make this disclosure, but we don't. We don't; we're different. We are special."
We've not heard from the government how they are special. We haven't heard from the government why....
R. Neufeld: You haven't been listening. They tell us every day.
M. de Jong: To that extent, I do agree with the Reform member: the government is special, but not for the reasons they might like to think. I've waited to hear from the government side of the House why the rules should be different.
The media, the much maligned media -- and in many cases appropriately maligned media.... A representative told me very quickly upon my arrival here: "You will be forgiven for much in this place in terms of the mistakes you will make and how you conduct yourself. But what you will not be forgiven for is hypocrisy." That is what the sections of this legislation dealing with the disclosure of volunteer labour represent: rules that are different.
When will the government, when will members defending this bill, saying that it is worthy of support, stand up and address head-on, point-blank, why the rules should be different? Why are we, as provincial politicians, deserving of special treatment? I don't want it. I don't want to be treated any differently than the many civic politicians who run for office around the province. What's good for them is good for me. Yet the members of the government side refuse to address that issue. We've heard from pitifully few of them. The bill is apparently worthy of support, but we know not why.
Conversely, if the provisions requiring disclosure by civic politicians are no longer appropriate, perhaps the Attorney General is contemplating an amendment to change that act, to bring it into line with Bill 28, so that civic politicians are obligated to do nothing more and nothing less than their provincial counterparts are required to do.
I find it hypocritical, and for that reason alone the bill causes me serious concern. I find it disturbing that the government will have done nothing in this legislation to put an end to the funnelling of moneys between federal and provincial parties. This is the group that at every opportunity attempts to paint parties on this side of the House as having unholy links with their federal counterparts, when in fact the only party in the House that maintains a solid constitutional link with its federal counterpart is the governing party. And it does so in every sense of the word, to the extent that moneys flow through its federal counterpart for tax advantage reasons -- and others, I suspect -- but more particularly to capitalize on tax advantages. If the government believes that that is worthy of support, then let them say so. But again we hear nothing from them, and they are condemned, I submit, by their silence.
We've heard much debate, both in this chamber and elsewhere, about the provisions of this bill that deal with polling. I must confess that at the outset, because we've all seen it.... We have all seen the irresponsible reporting of materials -- polls are a good example -- and it's been frustrating. This material appears in the journals and on television, and we wonder where it came from and how accurate it is. On the face of it, the argument can be made fairly convincingly that there should be additional information, that there should be some recognition of the methodology that was employed, that there should be some mention of the sample size and that we should know what the question was. You can argue conclusively that the reader is better informed by having that material in front of them when they are confronted with the results and the reporting of a poll. But the government wants to go the next step. The government wants to say it has to be there, and that's where I have a difficulty.
M. de Jong: The government member laughs. I find it ironic that the member for Prince George-Mount Robson would find the comments so humorous.
If ever there were a situation where readers should be provided with additional information, it occurs on a daily basis when one reads the reporting of various cases that appear before the courts. The Attorney General knows it, judges have been unfairly pilloried in this province when comments are attributed to them and taken out of context when there hasn't been a complete reporting of all of the facts and all of the evidence -- and the reporters will tell us that's not realistic: we don't have the room; we can't provide all of the evidence; we have to make choices. And the state affords
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them that discretionary authority. But in this case, we're now saying -- if this legislation passes in it's present form -- that that discretion.... I agree that it has been poorly exercised, but we're now saying that we're going to remove it entirely. Some members may be comfortable saying that; I am not. I am not, because it suggests to me that we are going to be willing to say, in other areas, that we want to remove that discretion. We are in jeopardy of sliding down the slippery slope that leads who knows where. It concerns me that we would be embarking down that path -- metaphorically speaking, of course.
M. de Jong: I find the comments of the government members so terribly amusing that I find myself distracted. Save me from this group....
It's difficult for me to address my comments to government members without looking over my left shoulder, because that's the only place I can see one tonight -- over my left shoulder...with all due respect to the hon. minister.
It is this sense of paternalism that I see emerging from the bill when we look at things like the polling provisions. As I've said, there will be no shortage of evidence that members of the public and members of this chamber can bring before the House to say that this is an example of irresponsible reporting; this did not do the story service; this was not an accurate portrayal of what took place. They can say it about elections; they can say it about crime; they can say it about reporting family matters. There's no shortage of evidence of inaccurate or irresponsible reporting. But does that provide the justification -- the government says it does -- for taking the next step and putting in place the kinds of constraints that dictate the manner in which the press, the media, will do its job that this legislation purports to do? I say that in the manner in which it appears in this legislation, it is dangerous, and it will not receive the support of this member for the reasons I have outlined.
We come to another section of the bill. Other members have spoken about this; they've described it in various ways. It is the part of the bill that is, in my view, immoral and undemocratic, and we will soon find out whether it's constitutional. Those are the provisions of the bill that deal with third-party advertising during the life of a campaign. The member for Skeena, during his remarks, chastised and criticized third parties as groups "who had nothing at stake" -- were the words he used -- during an election campaign. He questioned their ability to participate in that campaign, because, as he said, they have nothing at stake. That's terrible. It's incredible that a member of this House would made that kind of statement. Campaigns represent that one single opportunity that members of the public have -- be they a member of a special interest group or not, a big group or small -- to get at us, the politicians -- to get our attention, to demand answers and say to the people who want to represent them: "This is our message; now you respond to it."
M. de Jong: That strikes the government side, apparently, as being a very foreign....
An Hon. Member: Prince George-Mount Robson.
M. de Jong: The member for Prince George-Mount Robson -- Thank you. That strikes her as being a very foreign concept.
But let me say, hon. Speaker, that in a recent civic election one of the departing councillors....
An Hon. Member: One of the losers?
M. de Jong: No, one of the departing councillors who chose not to run for reelection -- this was in the city of Abbotsford -- thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to purchase an ad in the local newspapers, reviewing the performance of his colleagues during the time he had spent on council. It's a small-town weekly, but their ad rates are such that under this legislation, that individual would have been precluded from running that ad. That individual wanted to advise members of his town of what he thought the major issues were and how he thought his colleagues had responded to those issues. He would have been precluded from running the ads he ran.
M. de Jong: Now the member for Prince George-Mount Robson is splitting hairs. Now it's a matter of costs: if he could have done it for a little less money, or if he could have done it a little more economically.... The fact is, hon. Speaker, that she would deny him the right to run that ad. The member reminds me that it wouldn't have been nearly so bad if it had been a friend of hers, because the rates for the B.C. Teachers' Federation magazine are a lot less. Maybe he could have got a better ad rate in the B.C. Fed. But members of the public, interested individuals, don't have that option.
You know, hon. Speaker, I think what this member takes exception to is being in the sights of a group with a message and being made to feel uncomfortable. I don't think she likes being lobbied; I don't think she likes having groups run ads that say that they disagree with her position or with her party's position. I think that makes her uncomfortable.
Do you know what, hon. Speaker? It makes me uncomfortable, too. I don't like it, either. I don't like people telling me or telling my constituents or telling my neighbours that they don't like me or that they don't like the party I represent or that they don't like my position on the issues that I think are important. I don't like it, either, but that's the right they have. That's the process. That's the one opportunity they have. When the public at large is interested, is focused on the electoral process and is debating the issues collectively, are we going to take that right away from them? Are we going to limit it?
Again, there are many arguments that one can raise to justify that approach. I don't deny that. It will make all of our lives much easier in the next election. We won't have to worry about the pro-life or the pro-choice groups that might come after us in our various ridings. We might not like that.
G. Wilson: You have enough to worry about.
M. de Jong: One of the members says that I might have enough to....
An Hon. Member: Powell River-Sunshine Coast.
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M. de Jong: Well, I'm not interested in where he's from; I just know he's one of the members.
He says that I might have something to worry about. Indeed. But that's what it's all about. It's not supposed to be that easy. When one presents oneself for public office, it's not supposed to be a cakewalk. In many instances, and perhaps in my own, I suspect that it won't be a cakewalk. Yet they want to hide behind a legislative fortress and erect a wall that says to people: "We're going to limit your rights to participate in the process in a meaningful way."
Members might hark back to those days when we electioneered in the town hall, and when we got together and tried to convince our friends at the Sunday picnic about how to vote. They may hark back and say: "Well, that's sufficient, everyone to their own device." But we've moved beyond that, and the brutal reality is that in order for us to communicate with our constituents and our neighbours, our ability to do that....
Deputy Speaker: I'm sorry to interrupt you, hon. member. Much as we all enjoy collective debate, the rules of this chamber stipulate that only one person speaks at a time. So I would caution the hon. members. I recognize again the member for Matsqui, who I trust will be given a little more room to speak.
M. de Jong: Amidst the acrimony of the debate, I don't want the message or the position I'm bringing to the Legislature today to be lost. I think it is opposed by members of the government and certain members of the opposition. But it is a clear message: that is, in the debate, in the balancing act between the need to have informed debate.... The preference to have before the public, in an ideal world, all the information relating to polls, to limit or to have a debate in a campaign that is restricted around parameters that we as politicians are most comfortable with.... To balance that against the ultimate freedom or the ultimate right, as I see it, for members of society to be involved to the extent that they wish to be in that electoral process, I come down in favour of the latter. It is a balancing act and a trade-off, and there are downsides to the position I take. We don't get all the information we need when we look at some of the material that's reported in the polls in the paper. We don't know what the methodology or the sample size is, and we don't even know how the poll was conducted.
In my view, the answer is not to eliminate, not to restrict and not to remove the freedoms that we take for granted that have evolved over many years. I said at the outset that the Attorney General deserved recognition at least for having the courage to further the process by introducing a comprehensive Election Act, and I stand by that.
One of the other members in the House -- I think it was the member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi -- began his remarks with the statement that elections matter, and I think he's right. Elections do matter. They matter throughout the life of a parliament. They are paramount in the life of a political party -- it is what parties gear themselves towards -- and they matter in terms of the ultimate result. So it is an act that that we tend to take for granted. I am pleased about that because, as I said, I think it signifies a legitimacy that our process has acquired.
But to the extent that I think this act is misdirected in certain areas -- those that I've articulated tonight -- it will not enjoy my support.
G. Wilson: I stand to speak on Bill 28 tonight, feeling that it's somewhat amazing that a bill of this importance.... We're talking about the very procedure by which our democratic process is protected and advanced in our community. This is the very nuts and bolts of how democracy is going to work in British Columbia; it's nothing short of that.
I find it somewhat amazing that we've got this huge bill, and it's being debated by a bunch of politicians in the absence of any clear review or discussion by the very people whom it's supposed to serve, and that's the public. To be sure, this bill has been around for a few weeks -- no question about it. For my own part, it's been available in my riding for some time. It has undergone some review, but clearly not the kind of detailed review that is needed.
This bill takes a rather bold step in that it does start to address the principle of fairness in an election process. That's a very important consideration. This bill attempts to address -- the member for Skeena outlined it very clearly -- some outstanding concerns that people have with respect to how we as British Columbians can adequately and properly review the options in front of us in an election. That is a critical review, because it determines who sits on the government side and who sits on the opposition side of the House.
And collectively -- collectively, I say -- we form government. That's an important notion that maybe the public should reflect on for a moment, because the government of British Columbia is more than just those people who sit on the government benches. The government of British Columbia is also made up of those members who sit in opposition, regardless of what political party they're from. If we're going to have good government, we have to elect the very best representatives from each community to come forward here, and hopefully after an election to shed our partisan coats where possible, to get down to the business of trying to do for the people of British Columbia that which we believe is in their best interests -- and the best interests of generations to follow. The call of an election is essentially a call that takes to the people the platforms, positions and personalities that they are going to have to entrust their future to for the term of government.
The member for West Vancouver-Garibaldi and my colleague from Okanagan East wondered why, as we look at this Election Act, we didn't look at the broader constitutional questions of what we're about here. We didn't start to look at the whole process of reforming this institution of parliament to be a bit more representative of the concerns and issues that people in this province have. We didn't essentially make this institution more relevant to the public.
But we sought ways in this act to try, at least to a degree, to even the playing field in the course of a 28-day writ period or a time during which a leadership contest is underway. Our democratic process is more than simply a writ period during election. The period of our democratic process has to extend to every single day of the life of a government -- the time of its tenure and mandate
In 1987, when I became leader of what was then the Liberal Party of British Columbia, which is regrettably gone today, in that party we moved a policy position paper that said we should have reform of this institution to institute a
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fixed election day. We believed then and we believe now -- and we carry that banner proudly under the Alliance -- that government should not be able to manipulate the time in which an election is called. If we're going to have proper parliamentary reform, a fixed election day would accommodate what we believe is in the best interests of British Columbians with respect to the fiscal obligation this government has, and that is to put in place four-year base financing -- long-term budgetary procedures so that we can have predictability with respect to the financing of our schools, hospitals and social services safety net.
In a fixed term of office there is security and tenure of office, and it allows us the opportunity to amend the manner by which we bring down our budgets and carry through our budgets in an annual manner reflecting the fiscal year-end, but more importantly, reflecting the term of office of government. Regrettably, nothing in this document speaks to that most basic and fundamental reform, and I think it should. If there were fixed election days, much of the manipulation, manoeuvring, conniving and backroom politics that is still alive and well in this province would be gone.
It is highly ironic that we hear from members of the official opposition -- the new Socred Party -- that they want to try to implement a procedure that allows unrestricted third-party spending and that they want to essentially broaden the amount of money they can spend in an election. I can understand why that's a concern in this day. The 1991 election that managed to get these members seated in this prestigious chamber, in which it is a great privilege for us to serve, certainly didn't see a huge amount of money available to us.
If we start to look at some results.... I find it interesting that I should follow fast on the heels of the member for Matsqui, who speaks about the squeaker. In his bid for election, he managed to take 5,464 votes in grand total. In order to get there, he spent $49,798.01 to win that number of votes. What I find interesting is that in a losing cause in the Matsqui by-election.... We notice that Mr. Warman, who contested it in 1991, took 6,431 votes -- more votes than the member now sitting in here under the Liberal banner. And strange to relate, when you look at what he spent to get that, my goodness, it was $1,188.00. And that's in 1991! Under this political party, it now takes them almost $50,000 to get 1,000 fewer votes than they could get with $1,100 in 1991. What does that say about where that party is coming from?
It's interesting that through the life and tenure of a government... One of the interesting things about this bill is that it talks about the need for us to put in place those strict spending limits. The time that parties need to spend a lot of money to get elected is when they don't come forward and put in front of the people a sound set of policies clearly articulated, clearly demonstrated and clearly provided for the people to review and to pass their vote on. The time that they need....
G. Wilson: The members opposite -- some of whom didn't have a prayer of getting elected prior to a televised debate -- now stand there and say that if they had the money they would have spent it. They will say that now, because if you look at who sits in the back rooms and the halls of that party now, you will see that it's the very people who sat in the halls of the former Social Credit Party directing exactly the same kind of politics and exactly the same kind of political campaign.
G. Wilson: I hear the member for Delta South -- who used his old federal Liberal campaign signs to get elected; that's how sure he was that he was going to win his seat -- say that he didn't have the money. Money isn't the issue. I have clearly demonstrated that dollars aren't the issue; the amount that is spent in an election campaign by the candidates is not the issue. What is the issue is an honest and fair representation of what the people who stand for office represent. That's what's at issue in an election.
With respect to third-party funding, I do believe there is a huge issue here that needs to be addressed. I'm not confident that the language of this bill will meet a test. I have had a chance to read and study in some detail some of the jurisprudence and rulings on this matter, and I think there's a problem here that we may have to look at in committee stage, if we ever get that far with this particular bill.
But let me say this: the fact is that if we do not have within a political party a process for fair presentation of data to the public, and if we're not able to stand up and fairly present to the public what we stand for, then clearly the only thing the public has to go by is the glossy brochures and the kind of massive advertising expenditure on television, on radio and on the newspapers that allows people the opportunity to hear only the glib, quick catchphrases, and sometimes the personalized attack that represents the kind of partisan politics that we have had in this province for too long. We need to have spending limits for those who are contesting political office during the writ period, and we need to have far greater control over the financing of political parties between writ periods.
It is a privilege to stand for office; it is a privilege to be elected, to come into this chamber and to be able to provide some leadership in this chamber on matters of legislation that affect all British Columbians. But it is shameful to suggest, as we look at this writ period, that to have unrestricted expenditures by those people who are clearly partisan in their nature is a gag law. When this bill first came out, there were big headlines about a gag law and about how terrible that gag law was. There was a big headline in one of the Vancouver newspapers suggesting that somehow this was an infringement on freedom of speech and that somehow this was going to be an infringement on the freedom of the press.
It has been said that the freedom of the press is a great concept if you happen to own one. I can tell you that we do not get fair reporting in the press. I rank anybody who thinks that we have a neutral press in British Columbia along with those who think that when you put your money in a savings account in the bank, they tuck it away in a drawer until you come back and ask for it back. It's that naive. We do not have.... And I see that the member for Delta South has just learned something, and as an accountant, I.... But we don't have a neutral press, and I think we all know that we don't have a neutral press. Therefore it is clearly important for us to recognize that if we're going to have a fair election process, then we have to recognize that we do not have a neutral press.
We hear all the time, reported on a daily basis, about three political parties in this province. They talk about the
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governing party, the New Democrats; they talk about the official opposition; they talk about the Reform Party, the third party in this House. They talk about two of them being in opposition, and that's it. We send press releases up to the press gallery, and the Vancouver Sun reporter will receive it and put it in the trash can without reading it. We've witnessed it: a press release is received by a reporter, not read and put into the trash can. What does that mean? What does it mean when members from a duly elected party -- and we are....
[R. Kasper in the chair.]
G. Wilson: Oh, the member for Delta South says we weren't elected as PDA members. How ironic that is! No, I was elected as the Leader of the Official Opposition in this province, taken by a partisan process which now allows these members.... The member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove laughs. He may well laugh.
Let's see who this political party, which stood as the Liberal Party in 1991, have employed. How about Mr. Kelly Rickard, the former assistant to Socred minister Bud Smith, and former Socred field organizer Jim McArthur? How about another federal Tory organizer? Let's talk about Sharon White, the Socred candidate and organizer. Let's talk about Jack Heinrich and Jacee Schaefer, former Socred organizers. That's who works for this political party. Stan Hagen is up there defeating a longtime member in Alberni. Duane Crandall now says he's going to run for them.
This is hypocrisy for them to stand here and say we weren't elected as PDA. My goodness me!
Deputy Speaker: Order, hon. member. Perhaps we could get back to the second reading debate on Bill 28, the Election Act.
G. Wilson: This is relevant to this debate, because the people did not vote in 1991 for what they have sitting in the official opposition today. That is a fact.
That's a party whose leader is still not in this House debating this matter, this bill. As this bill completes second reading tonight, where will that leader have been on this debate? In the same place he was when we talked about the Employment Standards Act, social service amendments, adoption regulation, bubble zones and criminal-record reviews. I can go on and on and on about the legislation which has been in this House that that Leader of the Official Opposition is never on record as suggesting anything about. Let me say this, hon. Speaker: that Leader of the Official Opposition -- that young Brian Mulroney who now leads this band of new Socreds -- represents a political party which, in an election process covered through an election procedure, had voters place trust and commitment in a set of policies that have been totally thrown out the window and abandoned.
G. Wilson: The member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove, who now has abandoned that riding for fear of not being re-elected and ducked into a riding elsewhere in the province, says we should save this for the campaign. This will be in the campaign, because the public has a right to know who represents them. We will make sure that the public has a right to know who represents them.
My point here is that it becomes difficult to get that message across when we do not have fair coverage of the debate and proceedings in this Legislative Assembly. There are four parties represented on the opposition benches -- four. There is this band that calls themselves the Liberal Party, which I call, frankly, the New Socreds, because that's who's running their back room. There are the old Socreds, who now call themselves the Reform Party. There is the Socred, the member for Okanagan West, who had the integrity to stay with what he was elected to do. Then there are members of the Progressive Democratic Alliance, who took their....
G. Wilson: The member for North Vancouver-Seymour asked why. It's simple. I stood for policy and procedure. I put before the people policy that we still hold in the Alliance, true to the convictions that we stood up and put forward before the people in a 1991 televised debate. That is the reason we have to have some amendments to the act. I can tell you clearly that we used to have partisan politics in this province -- partisan to two extremes. That partisan politics was an extreme right and left.
Both were heavily financed. I believe the Social Credit spent close to $6 million in the last provincial campaign. I believe the government spent a little over $4 million in their effort to get elected. We spent less than $100,000 in provincial campaigns. About $560,000 in the total provincial campaign took 33 percent of the vote and elected 17 members. It's important to notice those who stood by principle and conviction and to notice that that opposition party has spent nearly $300,000 since then on by-elections and still has only 15 members, not the 17 members they were elected with when we spent far less money. Let's be clear that money isn't the issue; principle, integrity and the ability to stand before the public with a rational plan of action is the issue.
I don't have to tell you that when we start to look at this business of election spending, we have to recognize that those who put forward money often prefer to do so in anonymity. This is an issue of concern. I think that there are two parts to the question. On the one hand, I am an avowed defender of the need to have full public disclosure of funds. But there is a principle at stake here, and that is that there are people who choose to donate moneys and do not wish their names to appear on the list. There are people who do business with the government on a regular basis who choose not to have their names on a partisan list of contributors, for fear that there may be reprisal if the party they do not belong to or do not choose to fund forms the government. In the past, I think that has been the truth; I think you could argue that was true. So we have to rationalize in this bill how we should have full public disclosure, which we need to have, and how we should have an opportunity to protect those individual rights of people who choose to donate to the political party of their choice. That's an issue that isn't clearly resolved in this bill, and we need that discussion, because that is a fundamental right of those who are contributing.
We also have to deal with this concept of third-party intervention. I remember only too well the Charlottetown
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accord referendum. Massive amounts of money were spent by the elites in this society to try to convince the public that they ought to vote yes in that campaign.
G. Wilson: The member from White Rock says it didn't work, and that's true -- it didn't work. The reason it didn't work is that there was fair representation of the issues by those people who made it so, notwithstanding that one of them was a prominent player in the Vancouver media. I refer, of course, to Rafe Mair of CKNW. Had there not been that avenue in this province -- had there not been an avenue, through the auspices of Rafe Mair and CKNW, to ignite and get those platforms in place.... There was no other medium that was prepared to give the platform to the No committee to the extent it deserved -- none. That's an important consideration.
We have to recognize, as I've said already, that the media are not neutral; they're businesses. BCTV is a business; the Vancouver Sun is a business; U.TV is a business; and indeed, so is CKNW. So we have to rely on the integrity of the journalistic venues to get that message out. Sometimes we get good commentary that is fair and inclusive, but more often than not, as I've just explained, we get commentary that is not.
Some people will argue that my comments are simply self-serving in order to make sure that the Alliance is positioned to have fair representation in the next election. It's true -- they are. That's not because I think there is some kind of inherent right for me, but because there's an inherent right for the voter to understand who it is that is running for office, what their positions are, what they represent and what opportunities they may provide if the voter chooses to move in that direction.
It seems to me that when we start to acknowledge only three parties in this province, when they are what we hear and read about constantly in the Vancouver Sun, in the Province, on BCTV, U.TV and CBC -- although CBC tends to be the better.... When we only hear about them, that is clearly a misrepresentation of the opportunities the voters have in front of them. This bill needs to address that. There needs to be a recognition of fairness.
If we can use, just for a moment, the Abbotsford by-election.... The member for Okanagan East has just mentioned that it was considered a two-way race from the beginning. In the televised debates, only three members were allowed in the initial debate: the member from the government, the member from the Liberal Party and the member from the Reform Party. The rest were not allowed and were pushed off until a time very close to the writ period. A public opinion poll was done at the conclusion of that debate -- two weeks from the writ period -- and the question asked was: "Which of those parties did you support?" Who on earth is going to support any of those that weren't represented in that televised debate? That's not only fundamentally dishonest, that's an absolute travesty of any democratic process.
Whether you are going to support this party or some other party that ran in that election is irrelevant. The relevance is that you don't stage that kind of system so that you can put out on the front page of your newspaper -- which is, of course, already editorially committed to one candidate -- what those poll results are going to be, to help influence and direct the voter in that regard. That is inherently dishonest.
It is also inherently dishonest, under the guise of neutrality, for third-party investors to spend volumes of money, supposedly not representing any of the parties but simply positioning themselves against the governing authority. What absolute rubbish! How naive one would have to be to think that there is no political agenda at work. What do they think an election is? An election is politics. It's politics in its crudest form. Of course there's a political agenda at work. If those who argue that freedom of speech is protected by allowing those with money to buy up every available advertising space in the local newspaper, so that those who don't have money are shut out -- if that's what they consider a democratic process to be -- then I think we've got a lot of homework to do, because it is not a democratic process.
Clearly the difficulty there is not money. The question of the expenditure of money per se is not the issue. The issue is giving an opportunity for fair representation. The only thing that allowed those members who heckle me now -- and I think the statistics are absolutely clear, and I want to talk about public opinion polling in light of this -- those members who now take issue with what I say as the leader of the Progressive Democratic Alliance.... The only thing that got them elected was a televised debate. The reason that televised debate was so important -- and it's interesting that they don't understand that -- is that it was unedited -- no filter. The people saw live what we believed in.
There are some huge issues here, some massive issues that we need to address. It's ironic that we have not in all of this time ever taken this bill and discussed it fully with those people it most affects: the public. I move that this bill be amended by deleting all the words after "that" and adding that "this bill not be read a second time now, but rather that the subject matter be referred to the Select Standing Committee of the House on Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations."
On the amendment.
G. Wilson: Before somebody says, in speaking to the amendment, "Well, all that does is hoist this bill, and it won't be in place before the next election," let me tell you that I can't predict when the election will be, because we don't have a fixed election day. I've already said that that's a most unfortunate thing. But generally speaking, I think that the consensus is that there is going to be another session of the House in the spring. I think most people are now looking toward an election in May.
What does this motion do? What this motion does is provide us with an opportunity to take this bill to our communities to discuss it over the summer months and to have an all-party select standing committee. I recommend that members from the Alliance and Social Credit, and the independents, be able to participate in this.
So the motion provides us with an opportunity to take this bill and study it in some detail, and study what the legal jurisprudence is with respect to third-party spending. We would be able to consult with the polling companies, who clearly find it in their interest to be able to poll at will through an election period. Most of us, I think, have reservations about some of that. As someone who benefited after that televised debate.... We benefited bigtime from nightly polling on BCTV. Many people would argue that that was essentially an unfair use of the media to be able to continue to promote and
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enhance my and our -- collectively, those who sit now in the new Socred Party -- election into this House. It did, and there was no data on that polling. We don't know what the scientific basis of that polling was. As the benefactor of that, I have to tell you that I have some concerns if that kind of media-type manipulation is allowed to prevail.
I have some trouble with this notion of polling and how we deal with pollsters in the writ period. But we need to talk to them. We at least need to consult with them. We need to share with them what is in the act. We need to include them so we can understand where they are coming from in terms of their science. It was mentioned earlier that polling isn't a science, but it's certainly a social science and an approved and accredited form of predicting what life is likely to be like at least at that snapshot of time.
It's important to know whether they even include all the political parties when they ask questions. Because right now, I can tell you that they don't. People will say: "How come you don't show up in any of the public opinion polls?" Well, if the question is asked, "Which of the three parties would you choose if an election was called tomorrow: the New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party or the Reform Party?" the chances are that you are not going to get somebody's support unless they write in another political option -- which some do, actually, surprisingly enough. You are going to get people who say: "Well, I'm undecided on those three." So it becomes very important that we talk to them, because polling is a useful and important business.
Similarly, as we look at matters of procedure in terms of counting the vote, invalid elections and those sorts of things, these are important procedural questions that we have to recognize. We are moving more and more toward electronic vote-counting procedures. A lot of people have hesitation about that kind of process. Is that something we ought to be talking about in this bill? We need to discuss that question.
There's some interesting material in this bill on the registration of political parties and constituency associations, but it needs some thorough discussion and thought. And what a good time to be able to sit down and talk about it -- over the next number of months after we adjourn for the summer. I go on the record as saying that I have a serious concern about the manner in which political parties are currently allowed to progress. Indeed, I tell you that I have some serious concerns about the way some political parties are registered, how they have proceeded and how they are now giving tax receipts for donations.
It may not be a bad idea for us to say let's take this as ground zero. Let's do a complete independent audit of the financing of the political parties in this province to decide in the conclusion of that audit how those parties are indeed financed, so we have some real, basic hard data to deal with when we start to address how we should be allowing political parties to be financed.
Perhaps what we ought to do is take a look at how they are registered in this province. They are not under the Company Act. They may not be under the Society Act. How are they registered? These are animals, and some stand and claim that they are not suable, because they are, they claim, a nonentity. Well, what are the legal obligations and responsibilities and concerns of political parties that receive millions of dollars in the pursuit of democracy in this province? That needs to be addressed and discussed, and I don't think we go anywhere near far enough in the protection of our democratic process in this registration process here. I think we ought to talk about that.
In terms of election financing, we've already talked about the need to make sure that people enter the field of politics on an even playing field, that we do not allow politics to become the sport of the rich, so we have an opportunity to have those members who simply decide that in the sport of the rich they can buy their way or attempt to buy their way.... I don't happen to think, given that there's a fair opportunity to be heard, that the public buys all that nonsense, and I've already said that time and time again. But there are those who will attempt to.
Remember -- and mark my words -- that those people who will spend money to get elected are prepared to spend the taxpayers' money to stay elected, and that's exactly the kind of people we don't want. The very worst development is when they will continue to spend taxpayers' money in an effort to try and ingratiate themselves just before an election, to try and get elected.
The matters of election communication, offences to the act and how those offences can be regulated, appealed and heard are all very important parts of this most basic democratic procedure. So it would seem to me that the motion I put forward is sensible and timely, and one that all members of this House can support and endorse. I envisage that the committee work would take place over the summer and early fall. I think we would have a time for consultation; I think we would have an agreement. There may be minority reports. The House would reconvene in March, I would anticipate. That's an anticipation on my part, to be sure.
I think, realistically, that we're looking at an election sometime next year, and once it reconvenes, this bill -- an amended bill, potentially or possibly, but one that certainly has had wide consultation, wide review on such critically important matters as the procedure that is used to get us into this Legislature in the first place -- can have thorough examination, thorough review and a proper opportunity to be heard.
I congratulate this government for taking the initiative to bring in this bill. There is much in it that I think is excellent, and some things that I don't think go far enough. There are some matters that I have some serious concerns with. Our opportunity has to be to have thorough and proper debate.
[D. Lovick in the chair.]
I want to close my remarks by addressing through you, hon. Speaker, the people of this province, to the degree that my words can be heard or to the degree that we in this House represent their interests and concerns. I don't know what the good people of Powell River-Sunshine Coast are going to decide in the next election. I don't know whether they believe I will have done a good enough job or a bad enough job, or how they will feel about placing their trust in me next time. I can't possibly know that, and I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to try to know that.
I don't know who's going to be in government next time. There's much time to pass between now and the next election; many things can happen. There are all kinds of things that
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occur in the life of a politician that change their fortunes very drastically. As it's said, 24 hours is a lifetime in this business.
I have no idea who will be in opposition or what roles we will play or if any of us will even be here to play a role. But one thing I do know, and one thing that the people of British Columbia have to know, is that this piece of legislation must stand the test of time in the protection of our democratic process. We have to make sure that we put in place legislation that doesn't protect the politicians' interests, but protects your interests, the people of British Columbia.
Elections aren't about politicians. Elections aren't even about political leaders. Elections are about the people of this province -- their families and their communities -- and this province as an equal partner in a strong and united country. There can be no more fundamentally important piece of legislation to be debating, no matter what the hour, than the very process by which our democracy will work.
So let's take a little time with this. Let's refer it to a select standing committee; let's have all members of the House participate if they wish. Let's give the people of British Columbia an opportunity to understand how the tools of their democracy may be used by those who seek to get their trust in election. Let's not be hasty; let's not be partisan. Let's for once try to rise above that, and put in the hands of the people enough trust and faith that they will tell us what they believe is good and what is bad. And when we reconvene in a new session next year, armed with that information, we can be confident that not only will we have done a service to the democratic process but, more importantly, we will have done a service for the people.
W. Hurd: I am pleased to rise today to speak on the amendment to Bill 28, the Election Act, which is that this bill be referred to a select standing committee. I think the amendment is a reasonable one, given the lack of public consultation that has occurred with this bill. I think if we look back through the history of election finances in British Columbia, there is clearly a need for this type of legislation -- clearly a need.
We know there's a need, based on the history of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, which, as we know, existed for 30 years as the fundraising arm of the New Democratic Party in this province and funnelled money into the governing party beyond the reach, I guess, of a piece of legislation such as Bill 28. As we look back on the last three years in the province, we know that the truth with respect to the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society has still not been told. There has been no opportunity to deal with that issue, to have a full and ample accounting of the moneys that flowed to the New Democratic Party. I guess that, had it been around in the last three years, Bill 28 might have given us an insight as to how the money was raised and how it flowed into the coffers of the New Democratic Party.
At this time, I want to read into the record a chronological list of significant events of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society and associated other societies, which existed for so many years as a fundraising arm of the New Democratic Party. The Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society actually dates back to September 18, 1958, when one of its original purposes was to foster socialist education. We note that in the intervening years, there were a series of incorporations that really existed for one purpose and one purpose only, which was to act as a fundraising arm of the New Democratic Party.
The first reference to the purposes of the society comes in a letter written by former Agriculture minister Dave Stupich on August 14, 1973, in which he "outlines the desire of the NDP to establish a presence in the community and to raise funds for party activities." He also describes the role in which the constitution of the NCHS is aimed at "furthering socialist education," which has always been interpreted as meaning that the society will help the political activities of the CCF-NDP in whatever way is desired. That's the letter that went out throughout British Columbia.
Mr. Stupich also discusses ways in which the NDP would "on a timely basis, identify areas where new bingo licences could be obtained." And then they would, under the auspices of the B.C. Tomorrow society, "apply and receive new charitable licences." In summary, the constitution of the organization states: "All of the organizations listed above" -- that is the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, the Harwood Social Centre and the B.C. Tomorrow society -- "exist to further the political interests of the New Democratic Party."
One could say that it's slightly ironic in the last year of the government's mandate, and given the history of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, that we would see, with the introduction of Bill 28, rules in place that prevent that from happening. I have no idea whether it's a deathbed repentance on the part of the government, but clearly, when we review the history of the NCHS, I can honestly say that there is a critical need for sections of this bill.
In April 1976, after the defeat of the Barrett government, Mr. Bob Williams gave up his seat in Vancouver East for the leader at that time, and in return he received $80,000 over 40 months for "consulting services." He's still doing that today for the Trade Development Corporation; he is setting up a land registry system in Saint Petersburg, Russia. He's still consulting, but in 1976 those fees were paid for by the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. There is clearly a record on the books of that transaction having occurred.
Again, following the history of the NCHS, if we look at the first time Marwood Services Ltd. appears in the public accounts of the province, it was listed as an accounting office utilized by NDP MPs and MLAs. Marwood Services Ltd. was a remarkable organization for receiving funds to be dispensed to the NDP.
During the same period, the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society charity society also appears in the books to the tune of $312,408. This is apparently for the same purpose, since they're attempting to secure financing for the Commonwealth Society. Note that the money sent to the NCHS Charities Society is not listed on their financial statement. In the year 1982-83, had Bill 28 only been in place -- alas, it was not.... In the fiscal year 1982-83, Marwood Services received $360,932 from the province -- from constituency allowance payments. During this same period, NCHS charities received $48,848 from the province. No mention is made of these moneys in the income statement, so clearly if you look at the history of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society, there is, I would confess, a need for Bill 28, the Election Act.
W. Hurd: I'm being heckled by the member for Prince George-Mount Robson, I believe, who hasn't heard the truth about this society and who knows nothing about how it has operated to further the interests of....
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Deputy Speaker: Excuse me, hon. member. Could I ask you to take your seat for just a moment. The motion, I would remind you, is referral. The amendment is to refer the subject matter of the bill to the Select Standing Committee on Justice, Constitutional Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations. Your comments are certainly germane to the bill before us, because the bill talks about fundraising, but I'm having difficulty connecting them with the motion to refer. So I would just give you that caution, member, if I might.
W. Hurd: Certainly, if Bill 28 were referred to a select standing committee of the House to tour the province, the good people of Nanaimo and the charities of Nanaimo might have an opportunity to come forth and ask whether the provisions of Bill 28 will be retroactive, whether they can go back to the fiscal year 1983-84, when Marwood Services Ltd. received a further $281,425 from the province.
It continues. Constituency allowances from the New Democratic Party members were funnelled into an organization with direct links to the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. They might have an opportunity during a tour of the province to ask those hard questions about whether the government in its wisdom would retroactively apply the provisions of Bill 28 to this sad and sordid situation in Nanaimo.
W. Hurd: Well, thank you. I'm being advised by the.... For all we know, the minister may have benefited -- who knows? -- from the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. We may never know. We may never know before the next election. We just don't know.
Let me just continue with the fiscal year ending December 1987. The Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding charities society revenue from hall activities, bingo rent, was $353,146; total donation to charities as listed in their income statement was a whopping total of $15,255. Can you believe it? Where did the rest go? Well, it went, as we suspect, into the coffers of the New Democratic Party. Clearly, if we'd had a bill like this in place some years ago, this kind of activity would have been illegal under the act.
Let us not forget that this fundraising arm of the New Democratic Party, the charities society, was for all these years in possession of a licence to issue tax receipts, and it was a non-profit organization that was supposed to be doling out money to charities. As we know, it has been convicted in a court of law with remitting only a fraction of the money called for under the gaming licence of the province of British Columbia.
I would say that if this bill were referred to a select standing committee of the House, as the motion calls for, we might even be able to get to the bottom of that issue in the course of a select standing committee holding hearings throughout the province.
Referring specifically, section 182 of the bill talks about political contributions through fundraising functions. "If a charge per individual is made for a fundraising function, the following rules apply: (a) the payment of such a charge by an organization is a political contribution."
Imagine if that had existed back in the 1970s or 1980s, when literally hundreds of thousands of dollars were being diverted from legitimate charities in the province of British Columbia to the coffers of the New Democratic Party. They would have been in violation of Bill 28.
But I have no illusions that any portion of this bill will be retroactive to those years, and therefore I continue to read into the record the sordid financial history of this association, because it may well be the only forum that will be available to the public of British Columbia before the next election.
In 1987 the Commonwealth Holding Society listed as directors many current members of the New Democratic party.
An Hon. Member: Name them.
W. Hurd: Well, I'll be happy to. In 1987 the Commonwealth Society's directors were listed as Ian Aikenhead, Hans Brown and Stan Lanyon. Where have we heard those names before?
Perhaps I can continue with some of the allegations contained in the search warrant which was issued to the society back in....
Hon. D. Miller: I don't wish to interrupt the member having fun, but I understand that there was a motion made to hoist, and I presume that's the topic that's being addressed. In the member's address, perhaps he might want to stick to the motion.
A. Warnke: As I've been listening to the member for Surrey-White Rock, I believe he was speaking specifically to the amendment. As a matter of fact, the hon. member across referred to it as a hoist motion. It's not a hoist motion. If he had paid particular attention, he'd know it's to refer this to the select standing committee on justice. I find the hon. member's remarks most appropriate.
Deputy Speaker: This is tenuously called a point of order. I think all I will do is offer the caution to members that we are indeed on a very simple and straightforward motion to refer to a select standing committee, and I would ask members to please have a little courtesy for the rules of the House.
W. Hurd: I think it's an eminently supportable motion for the reasons that I've outlined. Certainly the people of the province of British Columbia, I would suggest, have a right to know the truth about the functions and the nature of this society. If Bill 28 were referred to a select standing committee there might be an opportunity, however remote, for the provisions to be made retroactive. Certainly we've heard members of the opposition and other parties suggest that it should be made retroactive to previous leadership campaigns.
W. Hurd: You suggest that that should happen? Why not go all the way back to the very origins of the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society to determine the real truth about election financing?
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As the members opposite well know, there are a lot of allegations out there about the truth with respect to the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. We also note in the search warrant documents a reference to the Nanaimo NDP Centre Association, also known as the Nanaimo NDP Association, which shows up on the gaming branch file, Nos. L1 to 140, L3 to 143 and L8 to page 367.
We could ask ourselves whether, under Bill 28, it would ever be possible for a political party to end up on the books of the gaming branch. Well, clearly we would expect, under the provisions of Bill 28, that that couldn't possibly happen, although I'm looking carefully at section 182 of the bill as well as at section 181, which makes reference to political contributions through loans and debts. As we know, the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society racked up lots of loans and lots of debts, used charitable funds to repay them and, of course, also paid the governing party at election time when the need arose.
So clearly there was a set of priorities with that fundraising arm of the New Democratic Party, and those priorities were to try and pay off the debenture holders for bad real estate loans at the expense of charities, and also to fund the political activities of the New Democratic Party.
Let's read into the record some of the activities of that society which existed to raise funds for the governing party.
Hon. D. Miller: I'm prepared to keep doing this, but the member is very far off the mark. Nobody wants to interfere with his entertainment, if he thinks that there's a large audience, but, hon. Speaker, there is a motion, and I would appreciate it if the member could speak to the motion.
Deputy Speaker: Richmond-Steveston, and I hope this one is a point of order.
A. Warnke: Hon. Speaker, it's just to respond to the point of order. Again I have to emphasize that the member is right on. As a matter of fact, if I compare other statements that have been made in the House which have been so way off the mark, I find the hon. member for Surrey-White Rock more dead-on.
Deputy Speaker: Again, all I can do is caution the member to please abide by the rules of relevance. Very clearly, the motion is very specific. If the member is building a case on the advisability of referring to a standing committee, then whatever he says is legitimate insofar as it furthers that argument. He ought, however, to at least make the connection.
W. Hurd: I realize that the motion before the House is to refer this matter to a select standing committee, and I think I made reference, or tried to make reference, repeatedly to the need to make some of the provisions of this act retroactive. Certainly, as I indicated earlier, there's a desire on the part of all members of the House to go back in history and get to the truth about campaign contributions not only to the other parties in the House but also to the New Democratic Party.
Why do we need this kind of retroactivity which a select standing committee might offer us the opportunity to pursue? Because when I refer to the search warrant once again, count 1 says:
"The Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society" -- keep in mind that this is the fundraising arm for the New Democratic Party -- "while conducting the operation of charitable lottery events under a licence within the province of British Columbia pursuant to section 207 of the Criminal Code of Canada, did, between the dates of July 9, A.D. 1973, and August 12, A.D. 1992, at or near Nanaimo, arrange with the recipients of the required mandatory charitable donation that a significant portion of that donation be returned to its own control to be used for non-charitable purposes, contrary to section 207.3 of the Criminal Code."
We aren't talking about ancient history here; we're talking about events perhaps as recent as A.D. 1992 -- August 12, 1992 -- clearly within the terms of the mandate of the current government.
So we can ask ourselves: isn't it somewhat ironic that in 1995 the government brings forth a bill -- belatedly, I suppose -- that would have prevented this kind of thing from happening in 1992?
The warrants go on. It's a litany of ripoffs, quite frankly. There's mention made in this warrant of the various societies that were controlled by the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society.
But I want to refer members to count 31 of the search warrant, which I think would clearly invite the retroactive scrutiny of this bill:
"The Nanaimo NDP Centre Association, also known as the Nanaimo NDP Association, between the dates of January 1, A.D. 1973, and August 12, A.D. 1992, at or near the City of Victoria, in the Province of British Columbia, did cause the British Columbia Lotteries Branch and the Public Gaming Branch of the Province of British Columbia to act upon forged documents..."
"...to wit, financial statements, as if they were genuine, knowing that said documents to be forged were contrary to section 68.1(a) of the Criminal Code."
I think these are charges that are of concern to all British Columbians, and I know they're of great concern to the charities in Nanaimo, which for the last four years have been denied justice in the province.
As we look through the list of warrants, which I suppose you could say is the rationale used by the RCMP to seize the records of these NDP organizations and charitable ventures in Nanaimo, they allege wrongdoing. We know that the matter is now back before the courts, and I think that this issue, if it were referred to a select standing committee, might give those people in Nanaimo the opportunity to come forward and say that they feel moneys have flowed to this political party that quite rightly should have gone to charitable ventures in the province. I know that many members opposite have talked about the need to go back in time, and maybe they'd be happy to go back in time to this particular issue.
Leafing through the documents again, we look at a number of allegations of wrongdoing by all of these societies controlled directly, as we know, by the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society -- all shell companies existing to funnel money back into the governing party. And we know that for the last four years in British Columbia, as a result of a series of ongoing investigations, the public has been denied the truth. They've been denied the opportunity to understand what happened and who the guilty parties might be.
[ Page 16297 ]
It may be resolved before the next election. It may well be that the matter will be dealt with by the RCMP and that charges will come forward. We don't know that, but we can expect that something will occur.
But you know, this is the kind of rationale for Bill 28 to prevent another Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society from ever happening again in British Columbia, where a society can exist to further "the legitimate" -- if you can use that term -- "aims of the New Democratic Party," and can do it by taking advantage of a charitable gaming licence to raise funds for a political party. Imagine that!
Well, I can only hope that under section 182, this possibility will be eliminated forever. If it is, that's a section of the bill that we can certainly support.
I find it ironic, really, that during the course of this debate in the House, reference has been made to the $1 million ad campaign that is being directed by Brian Gardiner, the principal secretary of the New Democratic Party -- a campaign....
W. Hurd: I apologize profusely. My colleagues advise me that it's $10 million, not $1 million. One million dollars did sound a little small. It's $10 million of public funds, and the Liberal opposition has introduced documents in the House that demonstrably prove it is directly tied to an effort of the New Democratic Party.
They have the audacity to introduce a bill that limits the rights of third-party advertisers during an election campaign. Can you believe it? After spending $10 million of taxpayers' money, they're going to turn around and put a gag law on third parties that are paying their own money, not taxpayers' money. How can they possibly introduce a bill like this and not hang their heads in shame? It's unconscionable.
I ask myself a basic question: why would any government entering the last year of its mandate decide to introduce a bill in the dying days of the session -- perhaps the dying days, although if this bill goes through to its logical conclusion, they may not be the dying days -- that has so outraged so many groups in our society?
Look at some of the headlines. "Orwellian Elections Act Would Gag Reporters." From the Globe and Mail: "B.C. Bill Would Curb Use of Opinion Polls." An editorial from the Vancouver Sun, dated June 3: "Self-Interest Evident in Election Act Reform." Here's another one: "Citizens of the Province to Sue Over Vote Rules." They're going to court, using their own money to challenge this law.
It gets better. A headline in the Times Colonist, that venerable institution in which I toiled for a few years earlier in the 1970s, reads: "NDP's 'Police State' Rules Denounced. Offenders" -- of the act -- "Will Be Liable to Fines of up to $5,000." Fined for free speech, hon. Speaker.
W. Hurd: Fined $5,000 for free speech! Here we have a government that has been receiving charitable funds from Nanaimo. The truth is still not out. I mean, it just staggers the imagination.
Here's another one: "Election Reforms 'To Face Court Challenge'." That's obviously the one, I think, that deserves more study and more discussion during this debate. Undoubtedly this is going to end up in the courts.
I put myself in the shoes of the government strategist. Why would anybody who purports to be a government strategist want to go into an election with a gag law before the courts, with their election bill being challenged through the courts? You almost have to take pity on the government, but I stop short of doing that. It just defies common sense.
Speaking to the motion, which refers this matter to a select standing committee, I just know that those members opposite who are tired of taking their marching orders from Brian Gardiner and Karl Struble and others will in the end exercise some independence and decide that the surest way out of this slippery slope, this morass, to which my hon. colleague for Matsqui referred, is to support the motion from the leader of the Alliance Party. Maybe I can nickname it the Dalliance Party; I don't know. The Alliance Party supports this motion to have it referred to a select standing committee of the House. Perhaps it is a motion that government members should support because it gets them off the hook.
Who knows, maybe during the course of that committee's travels throughout the province, they might even be able to come forward and suggest that the matter be retroactive and that all this information about the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society can come out under the course of an Election Act instead of in a series of court actions which may only get at the edges of the truth. The opposition, as the Chair well knows, has called for a public inquiry into this matter, but we have no illusions that that will ever happen with this government. It will await another government and another time. Clearly there is a need to refer this matter to a select standing committee of the House to at least give the media an opportunity to come forward and make representations about "the NDP's police state" and "British Columbia's gag law." This bill is now known across the country as B.C.'s gag law.
W. Hurd: My list of information from the media about the NDP gag law runs into the.... I mean, it's been in every newspaper. Clearly the media understands the ramifications of the bill and would welcome the opportunity to consult with a select standing committee of the House. The government is obviously worried about the media, worried about third-party advertising. In its editorial, the Vancouver Sun talks about the self-serving nature of the bill.
Deputy Speaker: Member, I regret to advise you that your time has expired. Please be seated.
I now recognize the member for Chilliwack -- on the amendment.
R. Chisholm: On the amendment: I'm in support of this amendment.
I have to congratulate the Attorney General for bringing Bill 28 forward. There are some good things in this bill, but some things are wrong. I'll go through it a little bit at a time.
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First, we have to clear the air here. We've just had this tirade, which I find a bit of a hypocrisy. Here is the Liberal Party talking about the Society Act. Yes, there have been problems; yes, it's still outstanding; yes, we do need answers to it. This bill may be able to address those. What about leadership races and people donating to leadership races? Maybe this is the pot calling the kettle black. It's about time that they started fessing up and looking in the mirror. After all, this bill will cover all parties in this House. If we're going to be honest about it, let's not hide the dirty laundry. After all, the NDP doesn't have ownership on all of it. There's a lot more of that in this House than just with the NDP.
I'll try to get back to the bill -- we left it for about an hour there -- because the bill is the most important thing. I sometimes wonder if we should even be debating this bill in this House. After all, we've all got vested interests. All the members of this House have vested interests in this bill, and maybe this bill should be taken out to the public, so they can voice their opinions. After all, we're in conflict of interest, sitting here debating this bill. We're justifying our positions, our jobs, and that's the thing that's missing and that didn't happen with this bill. Like I said, the Attorney General brought in a lot of good things, such as constituencies having to declare what they spent in the course of a year, just like leadership races have to declare what they spent. These are good amendments to this bill.
But there are other portions of this bill that are not so good, and some of those are in the disclosure area. Maybe it doesn't go far enough. When you take a look at the polls, maybe they don't go far enough. Have this disclosure for 28 days? If we're going to talk about that, why don't we have disclosure for 365 days? Maybe that will help straighten out some of the reporting around here. Maybe this needs to be discussed by the public, and maybe the public has a right. Like I said, do we have the right to debate this bill? After all, we're setting up the rules for our job. We are definitely in a conflict of interest.
This bill is the basis of our democracy, with 276 pages and 307 clauses. If the hon. members take a look, they'll see there are nine flags in here. These are issues that need to be discussed by us and by the public. It needs to go to a select standing committee. We are not going to come to a consensus that's honourable for the province, because we have vested interests.
It doesn't take me standing up here for the next half-hour with a tirade about everything under the sun that's gone on in the last three years to figure out that we need to put this bill to a select standing committee and allow the population of British Columbia to debate it and tell us what they think. After all, we're here as servants of the people, so we should be listening to them. And when they tell us, then we can bring it back here and debate it, if need be.
We musn't use this bill to protect the positions of politicians, and that's exactly what is happening in this place. There are things, like I said, that are wrong with the bill, such as this third-party gag law, restricting to $2,000.... Even before we talk about the amount of money or the third party, let's talk about the constitutionality. We've seen it struck down in Alberta. We've seen it being challenged in the federal courts. Will this bill survive? Before it goes any further, maybe that should be discussed. After all, there's no sense wasting the taxpayers' dollars and putting this thing through only to have it struck down in a court of law because it's unconstitutional.
We heard from the previous member about the media. Yes, the media has some rights here, too. And maybe they should be invited down here to discuss this.
R. Chisholm: Like the Attorney General says, they even have chairs to sit here and listen, but unfortunately, they don't seem to occupy them very often except at question period. But the fact of the matter is, they should have their day in court, so to speak.
I have talked about the polls. This disclosure -- when we talk about the amendment -- like I said, maybe should be for 365 days of the year. Maybe that would straighten up some of the reporting. I'm not going to go on for a long time about the amendment. I think I've covered some of the problems in the bill. I've even covered some of the issues in the bill that are good.
I think that all parties should start looking at this openly and honestly, if they can, and put it to a select standing committee and hear what the people of British Columbia have to say about it. Then maybe we'll end up with an election act that the Attorney General is trying to get out there, which is a good election act. After all, it hasn't been amended for quite a number of decades, and it is time. It is overdue. I applaud him for trying, but let's not rush it. Let's do it right so that when it finally gets done it will last for two, three or four decades before we have to challenge it again.
D. Jarvis: I rise to make my comments with regard to Bill 28 and this amendment to refer it to a select standing committee. This is really a huge bill, with over 300 pages and 307 sections. One worries that a bill this large that has not been referred to a select standing committee or given any sort of referral to the people outside that it's going to affect. This bill will be sort of the nuts and bolts of future elections in this province. Yet when we look at the bill, we consider the fact that it does not really address the rules of fairness, because there are some very hypocritical aspects of this bill.
The purpose of the bill is probably a good purpose. Who are we to know, without having it referred to a larger committee than this House? Some have said that the fact that we are deciding our own future in our own elections could be a conflict of interest. The purpose, as I said, of this bill was to even out the playing field of elections for all parties and individuals and, more appropriately, for the voters that are concerned. However, that is not necessarily what we see in this bill. It's quite obvious that the NDP government, with their new election act, is trying to regulate the relationship between politics and money, it appears, and nothing in this document, as far as I'm concerned, really does this. Obviously the even playing field that they're trying to make is not there.
We see that the main thrust is the contributions aspect and the need to disclose who these contributions will be from. The bill states that donations of $250 or more will be subject to a full disclosure. Also, first-time political contributions have to be disclosed, and perhaps this is good. But who is to say it's good? It has not been referred to people outside this House who can reflect on the matter.
We should realize that this disclosure is basically just for money alone, whereas persons on loan to a candidate from a company or a union, while still being paid by that third party,
[ Page 16299 ]
are not considered in this bill. That is why it probably should be referred to a select standing committee for a thorough examination before it is foisted on the people of this province.
I notice that in the bill there is a section referring to volunteers. Volunteers are not regarded as a political contribution. In that aspect there is some hypocrisy, because we know that this refers to large numbers of people from different specific groups -- mainly unions, if we want an example. This also does not create a fair playing field.
So goes the NDP, which pretends to be the party of the working people and of the average voter. This party proposes to make changes to protect, yet continues all those loopholes that will benefit them, which were used by the NDP in the past and now again, and we assume from this bill they will be used in the future.
We see that whatever was a benefit to the socialists in the past will continue in the future. Where we see full disclosure, that is not necessarily so. When it comes to this governing party and the exemption of campaign assistance, which has and will come from the unions that support them, that is exempted from this bill. That is why it should be referred to a select standing committee: so that it has an opportunity to reconsider the bill. And if it's not fair and does not provide an even playing field for all the citizens and voters of this province, then it should be changed. It certainly won't be changed in this House because of the fact that it is a conflict and the fact that we're even discussing it here tonight. We know full well that the governing party in this House has a majority, and they will not be prepared to look at any amendments to the bill. Even though this amendment suggests that it be sent to a select standing committee, it may be accepted or it may not. We shall not know until after we have the vote.
If this new act does not impose spending limits, will it stop misrepresentation? Not very likely, other than a declaration of who contributes to a political party. Will that cause any change? Will it cause the big spenders to change or to perhaps lose the election? We know that money doesn't necessarily change the results of an election, yet this bill is all-consumed with the fact that if it restricts political parties from raising money, it might have an effect on the results. The advantage in this bill is that the unfair advantage to other parties -- other than the NDP.... They have tried to put forward this bill to try and get the present government re-elected. We know that this is the purpose of this bill.
D. Jarvis: "Heaven forbid," says the member for West Vancouver-Capilano, and I agree with him. We have seen many problems that have arisen when we see a governing party trying to be undemocratic and restrict the democracy of this country. It will not happen here, regardless of what the bill says -- for the government to try to prevent anti-government elements from assembling behind one party, so they will not be successful.
Another aspect that is especially despicable is that this bill tries to prevent private citizens or a group from taking part in advertising for an election campaign. How hypocritical! We heard the member for Surrey-White Rock mention the fact that there was an advertising campaign being prepared by this government with $10 million of taxpayers' money. The government is going to use this to try to push them into re-election, yet this bill restricts private individuals from going out and advertising. How hypocritical can this party get or, perhaps, how desperate can they get? Perhaps they are seeing new polls that we haven't seen in which they are having a hard time getting up to 30 percent. I think the last poll out was that the Liberal Party, the official opposition, had 47 percent, the Reform Party was down at 21 percent and the NDP was down at 27 percent. Maybe that's what it is; it's desperation that they're looking at. They're trying to ban citizens from advertising in an election and seeking to block out a sector of the electorate from giving their opinions in the newspapers. It truly smacks of hypocrisy.
Can you just imagine the New Democratic Party actually restricting the feminist movement or the medical doctors or a pro-life group or a pro-choice group? They're restricting them in Bill 28 unless it's referred to a select standing committee for complete revision. Let's have a second look at it, because we shouldn't be making that decision here, in view of the fact that the government has a majority and they're trying to sway future elections to their benefit. Imagine them trying to restrict the advertising of the forest workers or the unions. Yet they will turn around, and with the taxpayers' own money, start an advertising campaign of $10 million. We know that is what is already slated. They will spend $10 million of taxpayers' money to advertise the good things that they supposedly have done, only to support the fact that there's a possible election.
We've also heard in this bill that there's a no-polling section in which they're trying to restrict newspapers from putting out information on polls.
D. Jarvis: I hear the Attorney General saying that it's just the opposite. Well, I don't see the opposite in the bill. The bill specifically says that they're going to restrict polling information from being let out unless there are long, detailed specifications.
D. Jarvis: Yes, I am talking on the amendment, Mr. Speaker. I have referred about 15 times to this amendment being referred to a select standing committee. Have I not, sir? Yes.
We've heard, as I said, that this no-polling information is a form of censorship, and the citizens of this province certainly will not subscribe to this type of politics. We heard other members mention that it's in every newspaper you pick up nowadays. There's an article, for example, in the Globe and Mail: "B.C.'s gag law is all about getting the NDP re-elected." Go to another newspaper: "The NDP's blow to women in Canadian political life that's restricting what they want to do." On and on we go.
I believe there was a criticism of me before, talking about the poll, and I would refer to section 186 of the 300-odd sections, saying that essentially all contributions now must be made directly to the financial agent or someone designated by the financial agent. Any contributions in excess of $100 must be made by cheque, money order or credit card.
I'm questioning the fact that we can now start donating to campaigns by credit card. That certainly leaves room for ques-
[ Page 16300 ]
tions. Anonymous contributions of less than $50 will still be permitted, and these are limited to $10,000 per year for the party and constituency associations, while candidates are allowed to receive up to $3,000 a year anonymously. There are these limits of about $50,000 per candidate, and I also understand that any specific donation more than $249.99 has to be reported. So anything over $249.99 must be reported.
D. Jarvis: Okay, we'll have a discussion now, before we refer this amendment to the select standing committee, on whether it's $249.99 or $250. As we quibble over a penny, let me say that I understand that....
D. Jarvis: Well, I don't know if we should have a vote on it. The Attorney General wants a vote on a penny. That really worries me, when his government will go out and spend $10 million of taxpayers' money and then try to restrict taxpayers from advertising on their own. It's kind of ridiculous, I would think, Mr. Speaker. Do you not agree?
I was just handed a note, and in view of the time, I move adjournment of the debate until the next sitting of the House.
Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. C. Gabelmann: I don't know if the House has been notified that it will be sitting tomorrow, but if it hasn't, it now has. With that, I would move the House do now adjourn.
The House adjourned at 10:58 p.m.
The House in Committee of Supply A; N. Lortie in the chair.
The committee met at 7 p.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF GOVERNMENT SERVICES
On vote 38: minister's office, $371,984.
The Chair: Does the vote pass?
K. Jones: I'm sure the minister would be very disappointed if the vote passed now, especially when it would not give him an opportunity to tell us all about his portfolio. This is usually the opportunity for him to make his presentation. I won't take his time at this moment.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: To my left is Maureen Nicholls, deputy minister; behind us is Carol Beaver, ADM of corporate services; and to my right is Bob de Faye, CEO and ADM of the Purchasing Commission.
My ministry provides those core corporate services that allow the rest of government to operate economically and efficiently. These are essential services such as central purchasing, office products distribution, printing, postal services, warehousing and vehicle management; programs servicing the executive of government, like the government communications office and the public issues and consultations office; agencies, boards and commissions; the cabinet planning secretariat, Government House, the legislative buildings, protocol and events; information-related services like B.C. archives and records services, the B.C. stats branch, the information and privacy branch, Enquiry B.C., and the Crown corporation B.C. Systems; the public gaming control branch, the gaming implementation project, the B.C. Gaming Commission and the B.C. Lottery Corporation, which regulates and controls gaming activities.
Revenue generated by gaming activities supports health care as well as the activities of close to 5,000 charitable organizations in communities throughout the province.
We are also responsible for programs that directly benefit communities, such as the regional delivery systems, sports programs and the B.C. family of games.
Recently, my portfolio has been expanded to include multiculturalism, immigration, business immigration and the Council of Human Rights. These are areas that interest me very much, and I particularly look forward to working in the best interests of people served by these programs.
The activities that this ministry undertakes, though varied, have a direct and substantial impact on how well government runs. If we meet our goals, government runs more efficiently and more dollars are available for essential services and direct services to the public. With the newest additions to the ministry, if we are successful, this province will also be a better place to live. The rich diversity that exists here, which we intend to encourage, is one of the reasons we have pretty much avoided the recession that hit the rest of the country.
Throughout this past year, we have built on successes in a number of areas. I would like to briefly outline some of these for you. The most visible, of course, is the fifteenth Commonwealth Games. The economic benefits to the province have been immense and are expected to continue in the form of increased tourism for years to come. The Games have also left the province with physical legacies such as the award-winning Commonwealth Place in Saanich, lawn-bowling greens and a velodrome. The University of Victoria now has housing units for up to 1,000 people, including students with families and students with disabilities. We're also left with a core of trained and motivated volunteers which will be sustained into the future by the $500,000 volunteer legacy fund.
But perhaps the most important legacies of the Games were social, including the increased role and participation of people who have in the past been marginalized in events such as this: women, disabled athletes and aboriginal people. Building on the momentum of the Games, the sports services branch has been working with these communities to ensure that their needs are recognized in all sports activities in the province.
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Hon. Chair, freedom of information has been another success story during the past year. The act has enabled greater public access to government information, while protecting the personal privacy of individuals. In the first 15 months under the act, provincial public bodies handled over 9,000 requests, more than half of which were for the applicant's own personal information. In November 1994 the act was extended to include local public bodies, such as local governments, school boards, hospital boards and police boards -- a move that will further expand the openness of all governments in the province.
B.C. archives and records service has been building on its successes and perhaps, contrary to its cloistered image, has taken a bold step forward into the world of the information highway. A joint University of Victoria, B.C. Systems Corporation and B.C. archives pilot project is providing Internet access to the archives collection, with over 5,000 images, 99,000 textual descriptions of photographs and over 10,000 catalogue entries from the archives research library on line. Since the beginning of this pilot program, researchers from all over the world have accessed 81,898 items, an amount equal to 1,347 floppy disks -- and I understand all of this -- again increasing access to government information.
Another small victory is the establishment of the government employee commuting options program within the ministry, which is dedicated to changing commuting habits, first of government employees and then the community. As a major employer in the province, especially in Victoria and the lower mainland, the government has an obligation to lead by example in reducing the traffic congestion and air pollution that result from people commuting to work alone in their cars. More than 1,300 employees now take advantage of our payroll deduction bus pass program. The recent bike-to-work week promotion has raised the profile of bicycle commuting and encouraged the development of bicycle facilities. I'm pleased to see that my colleague has plans to make bicycle helmets mandatory in the fall of 1996.
In the area of human rights, close to 400 complaints were settled through mediation this past year, which is an increase over the previous year. We are also increasing our education and public awareness efforts. To promote multiculturalism, the branch has supported 107 projects provincewide. These projects address anti-racism, community development, cross-cultural conflict resolution, cross-cultural understanding and institutional change.
We know that in conducting the business of government we have to be responsive to the current fiscal and economic environment. The direction from Treasury Board and the Ministry of Finance has been clear: eliminate waste and duplication in services within government so that more dollars will be available for essential services for the people of British Columbia. I believe these estimates will demonstrate that we're doing that.
The closure of government air services recovered $10 million from the sale of assets and will continue to save taxpayers over $2 million annually in operating costs. Vehicle management services has reduced the fleet of light vehicles and achieved a saving of $1.4 million. Ongoing streamlining in vehicle management is resulting in a substantial reduction in costs. Key initiatives include a 10 percent reduction -- that's 500 vehicles -- to the fleet over the next two years and the establishment of multiministry vehicle pools, which improve utilization and cost-effectiveness.
This year, as part of an extensive list of cost-cutting initiatives, the government cut its overall travel budget by 3.5 percent, or $2.4 million. Our Travel Smart branch seeks out the best possible prices for everything from accommodation to rental cars, with an estimated annual savings of $3 million on accommodation and $2 million on car rentals.
One area where we have not cut funding and expect a substantial net return to the province is in our support of business, immigration and multicultural programs. These two areas are an investment in our future as we compete for international investment dollars. We will be expanding funding in this critical area by $4.7 million.
Whenever there is change, there will be controversy. The ministry has seen some of this controversy over the past year. In addition to our core services, we also provide a neutral public policy development service for government on high-profile issues such as public gaming, environmental assessment and land use, as well as freedom of information and protection of privacy.
This ministry was responsible for producing a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework for gaming in B.C. We are now developing an implementation plan for moderate, controlled gaming in the province. The strong reaction from communities on the issue of VLTs has been heard and we responded to the wishes of the people in this process.
There will no doubt be more controversy surrounding some of the new corporate initiatives that have recently been transferred into this ministry. These include the environmental assessment office, corporate land use coordination office and the corporate resources inventory initiative. These branches deal with significant issues that must be seen by all parties to be addressed in an unbiased and neutral way. This ministry is in an excellent position to do that.
This is just a very brief overview of the work being done in this ministry. I believe this ministry is leading the way in redefining government. We're examining all our current work processes and asking the questions: "Should government be doing this work?" or "Can government be doing this work in another or better way?"
I believe these estimates will demonstrate that this ministry is able to adapt to the changes that are necessary as we move forward into the next century while continuing to supply government with those core services that contribute to the good management and fiscal responsibility that is demanded by the taxpayers of British Columbia. I look forward to our discussions.
K. Jones: Welcome, minister and staff; it's good to see you again -- and all of you in the audience, waiting. It's indeed a pleasure to get back to the estimates process and debate, and hopefully it will be a learning experience for all of us.
I would like to start off by noting that on the 6 o'clock news today an announcement was made by Keith Baldrey that there was a new gaming policy underway. The minister is well aware of it, since he's going to be making an announcement tomorrow. So I wonder if the minister would tell us what plans are being established to change the process of the Gaming Commission.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I will have an announcement tomorrow, and I believe it's appropriate that the announcement is
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made when it's due rather than making it through the estimates process. But I think it's important that the news today remain the news of today and perhaps not of tomorrow.
K. Jones: I find it most unfortunate that the minister is not prepared to answer direct questions with regard to his ministry. This is what the estimates are intended for. Since the minister is fully aware of what the plans are, it would be appropriate to answer them today at this time, since those are the questions being asked. If the minister could give us an idea of how the Gaming Commission is going to be changed, it would be most helpful.
The Chair: I'd like to remind the member that the purpose of this estimates debate is to go over the day-to-day operations of the ministry and the responsibility of the minister. What you're asking for is a matter of future policy, and it's not appropriate to be discussing that kind of topic within the estimates. As the minister said, the announcement will be made when the announcement is made.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That's exactly my feeling: it is future policy, albeit in the very near future that policy will become public. Who knows? Policies change, sometimes overnight. If I'm to announce the policy tomorrow, then the announcement will be made tomorrow. I'll be happy to discuss that policy once its been released.
K. Jones: It seems that the policy has already been released; the media is aware of it. Is it more important that the media have the knowledge of it before the Legislature gets knowledge of it?
The Chair: Member, the minister has indicated that he won't be addressing this. Perhaps we could get on to the purpose of the estimates debate in this chamber.
K. Jones: I'm very disappointed that the Chair would make that kind of a statement when I am exactly following the estimates process. I am right on course with the question. There is no way the minister should say that that information isn't available to these estimates when the media are aware of it. That information is known by people, and it has been broadcast. Why can't the people of British Columbia, through their legislative representatives, be made aware of that information?
The Chair: The member is quite free to ask that question, although I don't think it will be very productive, because the minister has already said that he's not prepared to share that information with you. Perhaps the press received another one of those famous brown envelopes under the door, and that's not the responsibility of the minister.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I'm as disappointed as my colleague that I'm unable to discuss the policy. Although I would dearly love to, the policy has not been announced. As you know, policy is never final until it is announced. I would be happy to discuss the policy once the policy has been announced. What you have heard on the news are the views of a minister of this government who is not responsible for gaming. They could be called musings, at best.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us which musing minister he is referring to?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. member, I am referring to the minister that perhaps you were referring to, in terms of what's been on the media today. I think it's important for us to know the confines within which we can discuss these issues. One of the principles is that a policy that has not been formally announced or acknowledged by the government is not something that should be the subject of discussion. I would be happy to discuss this with you if it's released tomorrow.
K. Jones: The minister did not answer my last question. Could he tell me which minister he's talking about?
The Chair: That doesn't seem to be in the purview of the minister's responsibility. It's probably just more gossip. I would urge members to get on with the business of this committee.
K. Jones: I am very disturbed by the amount of interference that's coming from the Chair in regard to this session.
The Chair: I'm very disturbed by the attitude of the member from Cloverdale, who knows full well the purpose and the meaning of this committee, and instead prefers speculation and innuendo. Could the member please start the process of the minister's estimates? Or I could call a question on the vote.
K. Jones: Hon. Chair, I am very, very disappointed with the way this meeting is being held. I am very disappointed. I think there is too much interference in the process, which is normally a very free-flowing conversation between the minister and the official opposition critic and doesn't have a lot of interruption by the Chair. The type of action I see really belongs on the benches of the governing party, rather than in the Chair. For that reason, I find it very, very regretful that this session carries on the way it is.
I ask the minister: is the minister prepared to answer any questions in regard to gambling and his ministry?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes. The answer is yes, provided they do not relate to future policy.
K. Jones: I'm waiting.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Perhaps the hon. member wasn't able to hear me. I said the answer is yes, I'm prepared to answer any questions that you may have, hon. member. However, no questions on future policy would be answered. The member knows full well that that's the rule that governs these debates. I'm not being rude, hon. member; it would simply be difficult for any minister to be announcing policy through estimates debates. I have not announced the policy on gaming; that is yet to come. When it does come, if it's tomorrow, I would be happy to debate with the hon. member at length.
K. Jones: Would the minister tell us what he is doing to investigate the leak of information on gambling policy -- future policy, as he says -- that happened today in his ministry?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I'm not at this time aware of any leak, and therefore I think the question of an investigation
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shouldn't arise at this point. If, after the policy is announced at some point, it is clear to me that a leak occurred, perhaps I will look into the matter. However, I'm not going to take on the role of a detective at this time.
K. Jones: The minister knows what was said, I'm sure, by the television reporter. It was a very clear defining of the policy announcement that the minister is going to make tomorrow; the reporter announced that there was going to be an announcement tomorrow. This information certainly allows people to prepare for it, yet members of this Legislature are not to be made aware of it. I think that the minister knows exactly what he is going to be announcing tomorrow; therefore he is in a position to know that the report that was made does constitute a leak of information from his ministry. He has to take responsibility for that leak. He has to do the right thing and conduct an investigation to find the source of it.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Thank you, hon. member, for the suggestion. I'm ready to answer the next question.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us the total dollar value of purchasing by the government?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The total dollar amount of goods purchased is approximately $820 million per year.
K. Jones: What is the total amount of purchasing done through the Purchasing Commission?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The total amount is $350 million.
K. Jones: How is that $350 million broken down in the estimates book? Could the minister show us where that is to be found?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The $350 million would be covered, I think, by the various STOBs, or standard object expenditures, of the various ministries.
K. Jones: Is that shown in the Purchasing Commission's working capital account as being the recoveries from the ministries?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The answer is no.
K. Jones: Well, where in the ministry's portion of the estimates does this amount show up? I can't seem to see it anywhere here.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This amount is substantially the amount spent by other ministries through their STOBs, which comes to about $350 million.
K. Jones: So that's not coming through the Purchasing Commission?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: My ministry facilitates the procurement. The money doesn't run through my ministry.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain why the Purchasing Commission has a working capital account?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that that account is presently used for acquisition of a vehicle fleet.
K. Jones: That's $18.8 million for vehicles. Are we purchasing a lot of vehicles this year?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That figure represents the purchases of vehicles.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us how many vehicles we get for that price?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The budget for 1995-96 would be sufficient for 744 vehicles to be purchased. However, the Treasury Board has only approved 669 vehicles at this time. Therefore $1.8 million is frozen.
K. Jones: So we get 800 cars for $18 million? Is that what the figures are coming to? We must be getting a bargain. Are we?
The Purchasing Commission only represents about one third of the amount of purchasing occurring within the total provincial government. Why do you believe that's occurring, and does it justify having a Purchasing Commission, or should it be eliminated, letting the ministries do their own purchasing? They seem to be doing the lion's share of it already.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The Purchasing Commission deals with about 70 percent of the purchasing by government and provides policy for the balance. Purchasing services is not within the mandate of the commission.
K. Jones: Originally I asked the minister if he could tell us the total number of dollars spent for purchasing by all levels of government. He said it was $820 million. We then looked at the Purchasing Commission's total purchasing on behalf of the government, and the minister's statement was $350 million. The figures that the minister has just given us don't jibe with those figures that he gave us earlier. Which is correct?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There was a study done with respect to this. It showed that the ministry spent $814 million in 1993-94 on goods, which is within the mandate of the Purchasing Commission, and $1.1 billion on services and $202 million on construction, which are not within the mandate of the Purchasing Commission. The Purchasing Commission does provide a very useful function. That obviously is a matter of debate for the member, and we can engage in that.
K. Jones: Could the minister now tell us exactly what percentage of all government purchasing is done by the Purchasing Commission?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I have made it clear to the hon. member that the Purchasing Commission has specific jurisdiction with respect to purchasing goods. The Purchasing Commission spent $814 million on that in 1993-94 -- as I said, $1.1 billion on services and $202 million on construction. If you take that in terms of percentages, it's about 30 percent of the total purchases.
K. Jones: So it's 30 percent; that's the figure, then. That's what I was trying to get clear. Thirty percent of the purchasing
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is the goods, excluding the services and construction allocation. The Purchasing Commission handles of a lot of tendering of construction work or provides tendering facilities for other agencies, including Crown corporations, B.C. Buildings -- perhaps -- and the other agencies of government. Could the minister tell us what percentage that represents of all purchases through the Purchasing Commission? Is that included in this figure or excluded?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The Purchasing Commission does not deal with the Crown or with construction, it deals only with the ministries of the government.
K. Jones: Could the minister then tell us how the Purchasing Commission process works with regard to tendering for various services that are provided to the various agencies of government. Almost every request that I see out there shows it being handled through the Purchasing Commission as the tendering agency.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: If you want to talk about the tendering process of the Purchasing Commission, that's a rather lengthy discussion. If you have any specific questions about part of the process, I'd be happy to assist, with the assistance of the officials. If you wanted a lengthy response, perhaps we could assist you by way of providing you with a briefing with the ADM who is present here, outside of this room so that you can spend your time at your leisure and deal with the issue at length. If you have any specific questions about the process, rather than my having to describe that process for you at length, I'd be happy to answer that question.
K. Jones: I'm in receipt of a letter that went to the minister on June 19, from a British Columbia-owned and-operated company that's been incorporated since 1974. They're in the computer output area. They have a series of questions that they'd like to have some answers to. Perhaps this would be the opportunity, if you wanted more specifics. They are questions that are outlined in the person's appeal letter to the Purchasing Commission of April 6, 1995.
Question one: why would the Purchasing Commission completely overlook their own specific requirements for the necessary skills, expertise, equipment, software and experience to perform the services in accordance with the terms of the ITQ?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I have the response to that particular letter, and I understand that that letter has twelve questions in it. I have a prepared response to those questions. If the member so wishes, at some point we can pass the written responses to him so that we can get on with the other issues that we need to discuss.
K. Jones: Yes, I would be very interested, although I've only got nine questions that are detailed in the copy of the letter that I have that was sent to the minister and cc'd to me. Perhaps we could see if that one answers the questions. The person who asked me to bring this forward would like to see the answers. He hasn't received them yet.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The finest in my ministry have obviously added a couple of logical questions to the questions asked in the letter and have provided responses so that we deal with the issues in a very open fashion and provide the answers to the questions that may subsequently come. I would be happy to ask my officials to pass this information on to my esteemed colleague, and then we can perhaps get on to the next issue. If the hon. member wants me to go question by question and give him the answers, I'll be happy to do that, as well. It will be rather boring for all of us, but it can be done.
K. Jones: The last thing I would want to do is have you bored, hon. minister. This is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.
Could the minister, for the record, give us an outline of what action the minister is taking with regard to resolving the concern expressed in this letter?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that my officials are working with both vendors to arrive at a satisfactory resolution, and I understand that the officials will be writing to Micro Com.
K. Jones: Micro Com is actually doing the work at the present time, because the other vendor, who was totally unable to meet the requirements of tendering, was for some reason given the tender. Heaven only knows why. I think there should be a thorough investigation into why a competent vendor, who has been doing the work for many years, is not able to get the tender, yet a company that has no capability of providing the requirements of the tender was able to get the job. Not only that, but Micro Com was asked by the ministry to provide the service on a one-year contracted basis, because the other tenderer was incapable of providing it.
On top of that, I really question how the government can accommodate paying double for the same services. If you have a contract with Micro Com on a contractual basis, and you have a contract with the company that got the tender but is unable to perform, it's an amazing situation to find yourself in, hon. minister. I think I would be rattling a lot of cages over that one.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The selected vendor, Deines Micro-Film Services is an established Canadian supplier of microfiche services. They have demonstrated to the Purchasing Commission's satisfaction that they are capable of meeting all the requirements stated in the ITQ. Deines has committed to establishing operations in British Columbia to meet all of the government's requirements. It is not unusual for a new supplier to require a phase-in period, particularly when the government's business has been monopolized by another vendor for many years.
K. Jones: Is that all you're going to say about it? I'm amazed; in fact, I'm flabbergasted. A well-established B.C. company is being prevented from carrying on its business in British Columbia while an outside company, which doesn't have the ability to do the job.... That was certainly proven by the fact that a government agency -- I think it was the Attorney General's ministry -- had to go back to the people who had been supplying them very ably. That ministry wanted them to continue supplying them. They had to be brought in. The ministry overruled the Purchasing Commission because of its incompetency or something. I don't know what's wrong here.
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Certainly the Attorney General's ministry found that in order to get their work done they had to go back and create a one-year service contract to pay these people at the same time as the Purchasing Commission was paying the other contractor to provide the services. Surely the minister should have a look at the GMOP on the Purchasing Commission with regard to how we have a policy of supporting and encouraging B.C. businesses.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This matter was put to tender, and the company that the member is talking about, Micro Com, lost out. The company that won the bid is obviously working to establish itself. The difference between the bids was significant. There was a difference of just over $350,000 between the two bids.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us the value of the service contract that has been entered into for the first year?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The process in this matter was followed. I think it's appropriate that if the member is interested in the details that he is now seeking, I'd be happy to have my officials give him those details so he can take a closer look at all the details that are available to me.
K. Jones: I think that with the senior management staff beside the minister, there's no reason the minister can't provide that information right now. This is not a difficult item. The minister has the documents there and has all of the senior staff right beside him. Surely they can give him the right answer so that he can respond to this very simple question.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: As I indicated earlier, if I went through the 12 questions and answers one by one that have been prepared for me, I'd be able to answer the hon. member's question. We'd be happy to provide these questions and answers perhaps first thing tomorrow morning, and then if there are any other questions left at that point, he could ask them.
K. Jones: We're just asking a simple question. What was the amount of the payment for the short-term contract that continued the services provided by Micro Com Systems in lieu of the other company's inability to perform?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I'm not aware of any arrangements the Ministry of Attorney General may have made. I can tell him that, in terms of Deines or Micro Com itself, there was a master standing offer for purchasing up to $800,000 in services over three years. It was not a contract for that amount. It was a master standing offer of up to $800,000, approximately. I am unable to provide some of the other details at this point because I think the matter is in a stage where officials are attempting to resolve the issues.
K. Jones: That's a rather interesting statement. The minister says he has no knowledge of what purchasing arrangements are being made parallel with the Purchasing Commission in the Attorney General's ministry. Why doesn't the minister know when there are parallel operations going on? Surely we must have better control over the purchasing processes of government than to allow different agencies to make duplicate purchases. This is tantamount to allowing a very interesting fraudulent action to occur. Does the Purchasing Commission have a process to establish whether the ministry is doing a duplicate purchase that would be costing the taxpayers twice as much? What kind of operation are we running?
The Chair: Member, the minister is not going to respond. I recognize the member again.
K. Jones: I'm very disappointed that the minister is not prepared to answer what's got to be a fundamental question about the operation of any part of government. That's what these estimates are all about -- accountability to the taxpayers for double-billing. This is what's occurring here, and the minister doesn't wish to respond to the statement. His response to us is that he has no knowledge of purchases for ministries that are requesting the Purchasing Commission to make purchases on their behalf. We must have a better method of controlling the operation than that. It's pretty well the end of any type of operation, if you can't have some checks and balances and some knowledge of what's going on in your ministry. I'll leave an opportunity for the minister to respond; I'd be ashamed if he couldn't respond.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is no double-billing involved in this matter. I am not aware of the details with respect to the portion of the question that relates to the Ministry of Attorney General.
L. Fox: This is a very interesting discussion. I just want to clarify a few points so that I can understand the process used with respect to the tendering of services for ministries. It's my understanding that a ministry will identify a need through this ministry to the Purchasing Commission, and the Purchasing Commission will handle the tendering of that particular service, but that does not negate, nor does it restrict, a respective ministry from going out on its own and getting additional services where it requires them. That's my understanding of the process.
I guess the questions in this issue are: number one, if it's deemed by the ministry that the services that were achieved through the tendering process were not meeting the standard required by the ministry, would not the contract have a failure-to-perform clause in it that would allow the Purchasing Commission to then go back to the respective corporation and break that contract? I think that's a key question.
Number two, at what point do we evaluate the process and negotiate the resolution to the issues that are not satisfactory in the eyes of that respective ministry?
[J. Pullinger in the chair.]
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There has been no failure to perform in this matter. I understand that Deines' facilities would be established by July 4, and my officials would be inspecting the same.
L. Fox: Perhaps it's just that I didn't hear the minister, but I wasn't clear what his answer was. Could he give it to me again?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: It's my understanding that there has been no failure to perform. I think there comes a point when
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the failure to perform crystallizes as a finality. I understand that at this point, in the view of the ministry, there has been no failure to perform. I understand that the facilities are being established, and that would be complete by July 4.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us when the contract was supposed to have been completed, and what was the performance date required for the start of this contract?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that from April 1 they had commenced the establishment of the services, and the establishment of the facilities would be complete by July 4. Micro Com has been providing the services on an interim basis until the facilities are complete.
K. Jones: Does that mean that the other company was given an extension of the contract to give them time to perform?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand there was an agreement that Deines would be provided time to establish the facilities.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain why the ministry clients had deemed a production delay of ten to 12 weeks as completely unacceptable?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that a couple of ministries, including the Ministry of Social Services, were concerned about disruption of services. Therefore it was appropriate for Micro Com to fill the gap in the interim until Deines was able to establish the facility for providing the service. There has been no double billing or duplication.
K. Jones: Perhaps the minister needs to check with his staff to find out the length of the replacement contract with Micro Com Systems. It's my understanding that it's for a year.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that my ministry's officials were consulted on this by other ministries. It was felt that in some instances it might be appropriate to enter into interim arrangements for up to one year. The ministries using Micro Com services will not be using Deines services, so there is no question of double-billing. In the long run, the way this matter has been dealt with will save money all around.
K. Jones: In a letter to the minister, a client stated that "every client ministry has contracted individually with Micro Com Systems Ltd. through the end of fiscal 1995 by means of a general services agreement." Is the minister disputing that or is the minister wrong?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: My ministry is not aware of what all the ministries have done. The ministries that consulted my ministry were given advice, and I'm not aware of what other ministries have done. I think it's important, hon. member, for us to remember that this is a field that has been dominated by one firm for a long time. On the other side of the House, you always say that we should encourage competition. Sometimes this is what happens with competition. People who have been providing the service for a long time are outbid and have to disappear for a time. That's a function of the market and the competition in the market.
K. Jones: We always like to encourage competition, but it has to be fair and honest and on a level playing field. This doesn't look like it's on a level playing field one bit. It's a firm from outside the province of British Columbia that has been encouraged for some reason -- maybe a political reason, because it has the inside track to outbid a well-established British Columbia company that has the ability to provide the facilities and is doing a competent job, as indicated by all the ministries that it's working for. Yet some outsider.... Perhaps they have political influence or something. That is the reason that they're able to get the contract over this well-established, good-performing British Columbia company which hires British Columbia workers. For what reason is the minister saying that he will search the world to find somebody who will compete where he has any monopolistic situation? Is that going to be the case? I'd like to hear the rest of that story.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: From that great bastion of socialism, Edmonton, they would only be outsiders, not insiders. It's important for us to recognize that as the issues of trade and interprovincial trade are dealt with, more and more of our procurement contracts are open for bids by companies based in other parts of Canada. This happens to be a company from Edmonton.
I understand from my officials -- as you know, I would not have been involved in this as a minister -- that the process has been fair, and the matter is proceeding as was anticipated. In the interim, to fill those gaps where services were needed.... These new people, Deines, weren't ready to provide those services because the facilities weren't established, so the interim arrangements had to be made.
L. Fox: The question I have arose on another issue with the Purchasing Commission, which I think the minister is well aware of. We've talked about it -- well, by the way -- and he's well aware that I talked to the Purchasing Commission about it.
The issue I'm concerned about is: is it normal that we look at an extension of an existing contract? How often does that happen with the Purchasing Commission? The other issue I was dealing with, which I'll talk about it a little later, is that the extension is creating the problem. How often do we extend a contract for an interim period of time? Indeed, are the bidders aware, when they bid on the contract, that there may be an extension in additional volumes that might be achieved through that extension?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that from time to time, there is an option to extend a contract for short periods within the original terms. How often we review standing contracts and throw them open for tender is a question for which I can get clarification for the hon. member. I think that was another question you raised in the question you asked.
L. Fox: The second part to my question was: do the bidders understand that there may be an extension to that contract at the time they're bidding, or is that negotiated with the existing contractor that holds that contract individually?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The answer is yes, they are aware at the time that the contract may be extended. The original contractor is aware that that contract may have to be extended until the new facilities are in place. That, I understand, was the question.
L. Fox: The terminology that covers the extension, then, would be included in the tender process and in the tender
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document. Would it be specific in terms of any kind of percentage of a contract? For instance, this one, as I understand, was to provide services for a three-year period for a cost of $800,000. In the tender document that goes out, would an individual or a corporation that wants to bid be able to identify that there is an opportunity for an additional 20 percent to come into play through an extension? Would you be able to quantify in any way either the subsequent dollar amount that could be attached to an extension or a value to an extension so that all bidders would understand the same issue?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The extension usually goes for a period of time, with pricing to be negotiated at that time. Sometimes it can't be anticipated right at the beginning.
L. Fox: Then there's a risk involved in the whole process both to the Purchasing Commission and to the respective bidders, in that you can't quantify or qualify, prior to accepting a respective bid, any value or volume that might be contained in an extension. That's fine, and I understand that and recognize the need for it.
My concern is that there are two ways that you can get an extension to the contract. One is to increase the volumes within the respective time frame; the other one is to increase the time frame and the volumes. If we're increasing the time frame and the volumes for reasons of going through a new proposal or a new design or whatever, then I can understand that. But what I have difficulty with is if you increase the volumes within that respective time frame. The bidding process didn't allow for that on an even basis, and you may have had a different bid if all of a sudden you jumped up the volume, say, 15 percent within that respective three-year time. There may have been a different price quoted because there was an expansion of volumes available upon satisfaction of performance. So I would suggest that those are two separate issues that have to be addressed.
I'll come to the other issue later, which points to this very process, but I think it's something that should be addressed with some finalities. I personally don't have a problem with an Edmonton company tendering in British Columbia and winning the contract. We have a lot of British Columbia companies in Prince George that specialize in pulp mill maintenance, for instance, which have more than 50 percent of their business coming out of Alberta. So I certainly wouldn't want to get into border protectionism. But I really do think we should address policy issue around what basis extensions are given on and be specific that if increased volumes are going to be needed, we open and retender it.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The member points to a risk, and I understand there is a risk in these extensions.
In the case at hand, there has been no increase in volume. The member makes a valid point, and I think the Purchasing Commission would be well advised to look into that issue. Sometimes these issues are difficult to manage because there are uncertainties.
On the other issue, coming back to the case at hand, I understand there has been no double-billing, as Deines have not begun to provide services. Therefore there has been no drawing down of the $800,000 amount at this point. Micro Com is providing the services in the interim and is being paid. There is no double-billing.
K. Jones: Further on this question, could the minister tell us if any money had been paid out to the new tenderer in advance of their proceeding with providing services?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Absolutely not.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us who evaluated this new supplier?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The purchasing services branch.
K. Jones: Does the minister feel confident that competent evaluation was performed in this case?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes.
K. Jones: So it is competent evaluation to let a contract to a company that 12 weeks beyond the new contract had not been able to install any of its equipment yet, even when there was capability under the ITQ to terminate negotiations within 30 days.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I have every confidence in the ability of the Purchasing Commission to do their job, and I understand they have done their job in this case. However, if the individual or the corporate entity involved believes that there may be a problem, there is a review process available. Beyond that, obviously the ombudsperson or ombudsman's office is available. That's less than politically correct, I might add. The ombuds office is available to deal with the issue.
K. Jones: I don't think it's a matter of the company having a concern about the process; it's the fact that the official opposition has a concern about the process that the minister is responsible for. I think it's something that the minister should be taking very seriously and should be very concerned about getting to the bottom of it. If that was my responsibility, I think I'd be very, very upset that we would be spending money and letting contracts in this fashion. I think the question is really that the responsibility ultimately ends at the doorstep of the minister. The minister has to take action to see that this type of situation is not repeated.
As far as Micro Com Systems is concerned, the company has presented their questions to an appeal hearing, which is the normal process if you're not satisfied with the decision of a tendering process. They presented that to the Purchasing Commission on April 25. Could the minister give us the courtesy of the reply to that appeal hearing? The company still had not received it at the time this letter was written to you on June 19. Why have they not received an answer to their appeal? That's a long time to wait.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that there was a meeting with Micro Com on April 25, and there have been continuing discussions with the firm. A formal written reply has not been sent, pending resolution of the outstanding issues. Obviously there are still discussions going on. At this point, Micro Com has not directly sought a written response, because the discussions are continuing. I understand that they are now requesting a written response, and one will be sent.
K. Jones: Does the minister mean that this company had a meeting with the Purchasing Commission, but that meeting wasn't an appeal meeting?
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Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that these discussions are part of the ongoing implementation issues, and Micro Com will receive a written response from the ministry very shortly.
K. Jones: This was an appeal process. The minister hasn't answered whether that meeting is considered to be an appeal or not. I understand that the company feels that it was an appeal hearing and has stated that in their letter to the minister. Certainly, if I were to read the statement, "To date, we have not had the courtesy of a reply," I would think that is certainly a request for a reply. It shouldn't have to come from the minister; the Purchasing Commission owes this company a reply based on their appeal. There should have been a timely reply -- within a week or so, certainly not much more. How do we run a business if we can't give timely responses to people?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that there is no formal review or appeal process, as the hon. member puts it. However, there are always ongoing discussions as part of the debriefing process when these contracts change. That debriefing process has been underway, and the Purchasing Commission will be writing to the party very shortly. I understand that there has been communication in writing from the party, and it will be replied to. There have been discussions subsequent to that written communication.
K. Jones: The minister is now saying that there isn't a formal appeal process in the process of public tendering to the Purchasing Commission. Does the minister wish to consider the GMOP, the general management operating policy, to have another consideration of that?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Within the operations of the commission, there is no formal appeal or review process. The company may have considered that they are appealing to someone at this point. This is part of the ongoing debriefing process. If the company believes it has some appeal process available to it, by all means we would be happy to have them avail themselves of same. However, as I indicated earlier, if the company is dissatisfied, the ombuds office is available to proceed to.
K. Jones: There's also another avenue -- the ministry. That is the normal route to go before you go to the ombudsman, as a matter of plain courtesy.
Certainly the minister does have the ability to rectify mistakes made by his staff and his various agencies, and in this case, he should probably do so to expedite this process and get it back on the right footing. Cancel the other contract, which seems to be a matter of a questionable decision made by somebody, who the minister indicates is part of his staff or reporting to him, and give the contract as originally bid to the company that had been supplying the services on an excellent basis and is very well respected by all of the ministries for whom they were working. I just think that the minister has to step into this, correct this situation and give the contract to Micro Com Systems, who legitimately deserve it as being the ones that were capable of meeting the contract with the lowest bid. They had the lowest bid that was capable of handling the contract.
Could the minister confirm that the service contracts entered into by Micro Com in order to continue to provide services is not higher than the bid price that they had bid on this contract originally?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: As I indicated earlier, there is a difference of about $350,000 in the two bids. The successful bid is over $350,000 lower than the bid made by Micro Com.
I've lost the question, but let me just say that the hon. member has sought my interference in this matter. The Purchasing Commission works at arm's length from the minister. I will not interfere in their process unless on the face of it I see that there is something wrong. As far as I have been able to ascertain from the materials before me, I don't believe there is anything wrong. Obviously the member and I have gone into this at length. Perhaps I've lost the question that the hon. member says I haven't answered. Maybe he can repeat it.
K. Jones: I just asked whether the minister could confirm that the annual service contract which was entered into by Micro Com Systems to continue services is not higher than the tendered price that Micro Com had put in their original contract.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: My officials are not aware of the specifics of the interim contracts entered into with the ministries. They are not aware of the details.
K. Jones: I will ask the minister, then, to find the answer for us, because this is a very important question for the minister to know. I'm surprised that the minister, having answered the letter that was sent to him on June 19, still does not know whether the service contract plus the low bid given to the Alberta company would not cost the taxpayers more dollars than the original Micro Com bid.
Let me just repeat that. Could the minister categorically state that the low bid from the Alberta company plus the service contract entered into by the ministry will not cost the taxpayers more dollars than the original Micro Com bid that he's tried to save money on?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I believe the hon. member would be able to receive that information through FOI from other ministries. I have no jurisdiction to get information with respect to their specific service contracts.
L. Fox: I too at this time would raise an issue. I'm always hesitant to raise issues of one corporation, because I think the issues we should be dealing with in this format are the policy issues of the ministry and the government and the processes of corporations in following those policy directions.
The minister is well aware of the issue with the one corporation that I brought to his attention and the attention of the Purchasing Commission, the delivery of emergency preparedness kits. I'm not going to give the name of the corporation, because I don't think that would serve any purpose. The issue here is once again getting back to the extension of contracts and, I suppose, the evaluation process used in the evaluation of the product being purchased by the Purchasing Commission.
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I'm really concerned about the extension. This particular contract was advertised on the basis of a certain volume, but during the term of this contract and indeed during the term of the extension, the Purchasing Commission is expanding its business and therefore expanding the volumes that were agreed to at the time of tender. That to me is an important policy issue and should be subject to a review in terms of whether or not it's fair to respective bidders and in the best interests of the Purchasing Commission to extend those kinds of volumes. I'd like to hear the minister's response with respect to the broad policy issue.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I think the hon. member raises a very important issue. I'm advised that at this time it's rare that a range of volumes is mentioned in the tendering process. It's generally a specific volume that tenders are sought for. To the extent possible and practical within the mandate of the Purchasing Commission, I would say that, without looking into it further, it would be important, where ascertainable, that a range of volumes be a part of the tendering process so that the tenderers could provide bids based on the possible volumes, and so that you might have different estimates and different quotations for different volumes in the same bid and the process would be fairer.
One of the difficulties with that would be that the bidders might believe that the volumes might increase, whereas the volumes, in actual fact, might not. I think those are the risks that you take with that kind of open tendering process, where you provide a range of volumes and bids with respect to those different capacities. Currently the Purchasing Commission seeks bids based on a given volume, rather than a range of volumes.
I think that what you raise is a very important issue in terms of policy. If the Purchasing Commission is able to indicate the range of volumes that may be covered, a bid can perhaps be tendered based on the range. However, the risks are that you might, as a person tendering, open yourself to some possible damage, in the sense that if you based your bid on a larger volume and it doesn't materialize in the end, then you would be at a loss. Those are risks inherent in the tendering process. It would be very, very difficult for the Purchasing Commission to word proposals or seeking of proposals in a way that might satisfy your question. But I think it's an important question, and it should be looked into, if it's doable at all.
L. Fox: Let me first say to the minister that I'm not concerned about the risk factor, which is something that most businesses would address, as long as everybody has equal opportunity. The aggressive business person may indeed take a risk; the other one may not wish to. That's fine; that's what free enterprise is all about, and that's what business management is all about.
Where I have some concerns with the scenario that the minister raises.... I'll give the minister the benefit of my experience with the tendering process. Where you put in different volumes, or if you have a tender process which provides for opportunities to vary your prices depending on volumes or at specific triggers, that's when you run into difficulties. This individual bidding on the first block may say: "Well, the opportunities of achieving further tenders beyond this are not that good, so I'll bid low in the first block, and I'll bid higher in the subsequent block, and so on." The next guy says: "Well, I'll bid higher on the first block, but as the volumes increase, I'll decrease my prices."
At the end of it, wherever you cut it off is when you make the assessment as to which one is cheaper, rather than on the actual tender, because you won't have any way of evaluating it until you actually achieve the volumes that you're going to end up with. So that draws more questions than it does answers. I would much prefer the fixed tender process for fixed volume, and when you've achieved that volume, then you retender. Or prior to achieving the volume, it's retendered. That brings much more certainty into the process. It's much fairer to the suppliers, because they know what they're bidding on. I would encourage the minister, as a policy objective, to look very seriously at that particular policy.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This is obviously enlightening for me, as this ministry is new to me. I believe the point that the hon. member is making is very valuable. What you're saying, hon. member, if I understand you correctly, is that if a bid has been sought for a particular volume, and the volume increases, then the additional volume should be tendered separately. The original successful tenderer or the bidder should be able to tender on that as well as others. That's a policy question that we should look at, and I will ask the Purchasing Commission to look into it. I think that's a fairer way of approaching it, if it's practical to do.
L. Fox: I appreciate the minister's candidness and openness to that type of suggestion. I'm not sure how long we're going to have the Purchasing Commission here; I suspect it may be for quite a while.
An Hon. Member: We want the estimates tonight.
L. Fox: Well, in that case I'd like to ask my questions now so that I could leave. I note with some interest a substantial reduction in the estimates of the Purchasing Commission around salaries and benefits. In fact, the reduction is almost $4 million -- from $8.8 million last year down to $4.9 million this year, if I understand the estimates correctly. Could the minister give us some rationale for that? I'll leave it at that and go on to other questions.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I think that decrease reflects the winding down of government air services.
L. Fox: I didn't realize that the Purchasing Commission had government air services employees contained within it. You learn something every year through the estimates.
I would like to ask a further question with respect to the budget for the Purchasing Commission. I see that recoveries are down by almost $1.5 million. Does this signify that there are less contracts with respective ministries? Why have the recoveries dropped? In other words, why is the Purchasing Commission going to be selling less to government this year by $1.5 million than it did last year?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That decrease also reflects the closure of Government Air. This was the part of the ministry that Government Air sat in when it was in existence.
L. Fox: I appreciate that answer.
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I have one further question with respect to the Purchasing Commission. With respect to the PharmaNet program, which is presently being instituted through the Ministry of Health and Pharmacare, is the Purchasing Commission involved in the acquisition of the hardware and so on?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the Purchasing Commission is not involved in that.
K. Jones: We've hit on a very interesting item that my colleague for Prince George-Omineca has brought out. The minister's reply is rather interesting, especially when you look at the Purchasing Commission. Although the salaries and benefits have dropped, the operating costs have not dropped. The operating costs were $16 million last year and $16 million for this year. Could the minister please explain that, in view of the fact that government air services has been eliminated? The operating expenses of government air services obviously would be eliminated from that budget item as well, I would think.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the total increase over last year in the budget for purchasing services is about 4 percent.
K. Jones: I'm afraid the minister has confused me completely with that answer. What does 4 percent have to do with it when you actually have a reduction in costs of roughly $300,000 from last year to this year? How could you have a 4 percent increase?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: My officials and I are at a loss to understand the question. What aspect of the ministry does it relate to?
K. Jones: The Purchasing Commission, page 161 of Estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 1996. Under vote 39, operating costs for 1994-95 were $16,347,115; the estimated operating costs for 1995-96 are $16,060,859. According to Estimates, it is about $300,000 lower in 1995-96 than it was in 1994-95. I believe the book is fairly accurate.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand the reduction is in vehicle purchasing with respect to the working account, which is the name of the account.
K. Jones: You say that operating costs have been reduced by vehicle purchasing, which I would consider to be a capital cost item, not an operating cost item. You already mentioned that the purchasing cost of vehicles was $18 million, not $300,000. Which is it, hon. minister?
[D. Schreck in the chair.]
L. Fox: While the minister's assistants are looking up that information, perhaps I may add one further question to it. Given that $16 million is primarily made up of STOB 50, which is utilities, materials, supplies, vehicles and the operating and maintenance costs as well as some of the acquisition costs....
I understand that's the cost of acquiring those services, but the real question is that in 1994-95, there was a shortfall of $800,000 between recoveries and those costs. But in 1995-96 there is a shortfall of $1.9 million between the operating costs, the acquisition of those services and the total recovery. So there's actually a loss this year of some $1.1 million more than last year. That to me is the issue here and the concern.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: My officials would be happy to provide that answer in the morning. They will be looking into that; working with figures isn't always easy.
F. Gingell: The auditor general, in report No. 1 for 1994-95, did a review on the purchasing practices of school districts. They looked at six school districts: one small one, a couple of quite small ones, some medium-sized ones and two large school districts in various parts of the province. They considered their practices under certain criteria: good value, probity, equitable treatment of suppliers and the use of local and regional suppliers. I wonder whether the Purchasing Commission has taken the opportunity to study this report, whether they have thought about the recommendations that the auditor general made in relation to their operations and what the results of that internal review may have been.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that a member of the Purchasing Commission staff assisted in that study. If requested, the Purchasing Commission can provide its purchasing advice and expertise to the school districts as well as to the Ministry of Education. The school districts may access current public sector contracts negotiated by the Purchasing Commission for commodities such as computers, maintenance supplies and furniture.
F. Gingell: That wasn't the question. I realize that someone from the Purchasing Commission had in fact taken part and that the auditor general's office makes a point of looking for help and expertise wherever they can. The question that I have is: have you done an internal review in light of the findings of this report and thought about how it applies to the practices of the Purchasing Commission? Are you living up to the standards that were deemed in this report to be good practices for purchasers?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the Purchasing Commission attempts to apply the best possible practices in conducting itself and providing efficient services to the ministries.
F. Gingell: I'm not quite sure how to ask the next question, because I don't want the minister to feel that I'm badgering him. The Purchasing Commission had a role in the development of this. Have you sat down seriously afterwards and said: "These are the results, and these are the kinds of criteria that were enunciated by an independent body as good purchasing practices. How do we stack up against those criteria?"
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the Purchasing Commission has looked at the findings and recommendations of the report. In their assessment -- and I believe their assessment to be reliable -- they stack up well.
F. Gingell: Do I take it from that that the Purchasing Commission has clearly enunciated policies and practices laid down that fall within the guidelines which are recommended within this report?
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Hon. U. Dosanjh: The answer is yes.
F. Gingell: It's really important in dealing with these value-for-money audits, which tend to be subjective rather than objective because of their nature, that organizations develop some means of measuring their results -- criteria or benchmarks against which they can regularly evaluate their own performance and see whether or not they are meeting those benchmarks. I wonder what practices the Purchasing Commission has in place to ensure that an ongoing evaluation against clearly established benchmarks takes place.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The Purchasing Commission has a monthly performance report as well as a monthly survey of the customers the Purchasing Commission deals with to gauge their level of satisfaction. In addition, other mechanisms are present to deal with this issue on an ongoing basis.
F. Gingell: So this monthly evaluation is a subjective questionnaire response from your customers to indicate their level of satisfaction -- i.e., yes, they feel that the Purchasing Commission is doing a good job for them. Has the Purchasing Commission been able to come up with any more measurable items that are objective, rather than subjective in the self-evaluation of their operations?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that throughout the hierarchy of the Purchasing Commission, from the lowest to the highest, there is a process whereby management performance is evaluated on a regular basis, and reports are compiled, forwarded and dealt with.
F. Gingell: What are the criteria you use to measure this performance?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Some of the objective criteria used in making this assessment on a regular basis are as follows: number of documents, volume in terms of dollar value dealt with, utilization of master standard offers, drawdown rates and turnaround time with respect to invitations to quote or RFPs. Those are assessed on a regular basis in terms of performance. Those are just some of the criteria that I've been able to compile quickly for you.
F. Gingell: I can appreciate that it's more difficult to create good benchmarks and good criteria for an organization such as the Purchasing Commission than it is for some health or education issue, where there are perhaps more tangible things to measure.
I haven't set my mind to thinking about what some of those benchmarks or criteria might be, but the Purchasing Commission is in a position where it deals with suppliers who are successful, bidders who are not successful and customers who are the ministries.
In one of your earlier answers, I took it that there is some communication with those three groups. I think the group that you mentioned particularly were the customers. I wonder whether the Purchasing Commission spends any time thinking about and trying to find out whether the successful suppliers feel they are fairly and properly dealt with and treated, and whether the unsuccessful ones also think that, as well as your customers who are dependent upon your services.
Could the minister or a staff member give us a brief review of how those three different communities are dealt with in the process of evaluating whether all these individuals think they're getting value for money, whether there's probity, whether there is prompt and efficient delivery of the supplies that you purchase and if you try to assist regional and local suppliers as much as you can?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We have regular surveys of the ministries that we deal with through the Purchasing Commission. Of course, the Purchasing Commission has supplier development staff, and there is staff to do vendor outreach on a regular basis through vendor forums and other devices. Bidders' meetings also happen on a regular basis.
Those are some of the things that are done to gauge the satisfaction level of the customers and the suppliers, successful and unsuccessful.
F. Gingell: Government organizations thinking about program outcomes and trying to measure them is a relatively new development in the government. I'm pleased to see that this government, in certain ministries -- particularly Health and some preliminary work that was done in Parks and in Agriculture -- has taken this to their bosom, as it were, and is really trying hard.
Mr. Minister, in your short time in your responsibilities, do you have the feeling that program outcome measurement, this kind of rather subjective evaluation, is a function that your ministry considers to be important and is committed to promoting?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that my ministry, even before I got there, had been engaged in measuring the indicators of efficiency in the terminology that the member has used, which is somewhat alien to me at this time, but I'm getting used to it. I can assure you that there is an ongoing program evaluation of measurable outputs -- I'm told that's the correct term -- that continues in various shapes and forms at various levels of the ministry on a regular basis.
F. Gingell: I wonder if, in your briefing notes, you had any of those measurable criteria that you're using. That's really what I was after. What are the actual measurements that you use? In some of these subjective things, such as some of these service areas, it's not easy to come up with good benchmarks. Senior management who work there and are experienced get an understanding of how they manage, what the results are and how you can measure those results. I was looking for some specific listing of results that you measure, which indicate to you that in fact this is moving along.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We can provide the criteria in writing to the hon. member at the earliest possible time. There are criteria, but I don't have the list at this point. It will take some time for the deputy minister to make that list. As you know, I'm new to this, and I haven't looked at the....
An Hon. Member: Two months, come on.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Questions are easy to ask. We'd be happy to provide that information to you.
F. Gingell: One measure that came to mind as we sat here looking at some early stuff is the number of appeals that you
[ Page 16312 ]
have. How many appeals does the Purchasing Commission have and what are the outcomes of those appeals? On how many occasions do you determine that the supplier or the unsuccessful bidder had a valid point? I wonder if, in your briefing notes, you have statistics on the number of appeals in the last couple of years -- year by year -- and what the outcome of the appeals were.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that there have been two appeals to the ombuds office in the last four years. One was resolved in favour of the vendor, and the other in favour of the Purchasing Commission.
F. Gingell: So the Purchasing Commission doesn't have someone as an ombudsman or ombudsperson within the Purchasing Commission itself, who sits independently and operates a complaints desk that looks into the issues of dissatisfied suppliers.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is an internal process to review these issues, but there is no appeal process per se. Obviously, if there is a complaint at one level, the review moves to the next level and goes up in sequence. However, the ultimate appeal is to the ombuds office.
F. Gingell: I'm surprised that you would set up a system that finishes with the ombudsperson. Do you have statistics on the total number of reviews that have been done at the request of dissatisfied bidders?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the CEO of the Purchasing Commission hasn't had a complaint in the year that he has been with us. There are no statistics available in terms of any complaints that have come with the....
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the hon. member was dealing with some correspondence. I don't believe that has been viewed by the commission as a complaint. That has been viewed by the commission, as I said earlier, as part of the ongoing debriefing process subsequent to the tendering process that took place. If it is not resolved and turns into a complaint, it will move up to the CEO, who will look at it. If it is not resolved, obviously there is the outside process available through the ombuds office.
F. Gingell: The package I have has to do with Micro Com Systems, which I think you have referred to. The supplier says: "These questions were raised at an appeal hearing with purchasing on April 25, 1995."
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I think there is some confusion because of the use of the term "appeal hearing." That was a meeting with officials of the commission to deal with some outstanding issues and concerns that they had. They regard it as an appeal process, but there is no internal appeal process per se. There can always be a review within the Purchasing Commission, and the matter would eventually go to the CEO.
The member raises an interesting question. If I understand you correctly, you believe that there perhaps should be a complaints desk within the Purchasing Commission. I'm sure the Purchasing Commission would look at that suggestion, because there is no identifiable individual or staff person within the Purchasing Commission at this time to whom the complaints could come.
F. Gingell: In no way would I want to suggest to you what you should do. You're the government, you're in control and you should try to make the operation as effective as you can. But it seems hard to think that people are going to have a feeling of satisfaction when they have not been successful. I've had some letters and complaints, and I really haven't followed them up much because I was on the side of the Purchasing Commission, to be honest, in those cases. But there must be some very genuine cases....
F. Gingell: I'm not telling you who it was.
Unless there is some individual with some seniority who is seen by someone coming back to the commission as being independent of the decision process, you're not going to be able to satisfy the needs of probity, which the auditor general felt were important in the issue. I take it from the discussion that we've had that you don't have any statistics about the number of people who have asked to be reviewed.
I'd like to suggest that that is perhaps one measure that would be worthwhile. The better the job is done, the more people understand clearly defined invitations to tender and the more open the process is, there should be a resulting reduction in the number of appeals, which saves everybody time. You need less people. I would suggest to you that as you think about what good measures are, trying to get some kind of handle on the number of appeals might be quite worthwhile.
I'd like to move to another subject. I'm doing this because I really don't know.... I'm always told that in estimates you shouldn't ask questions that you don't know the answers to. But I don't know what the $13.5 million under STOB 50 is under the Purchasing Commission. I appreciate that that may well be a large part of the items that are recovered by billings out to the various ministries.
My colleague was asking if government air services are now out of this, and that's why your wages have come down. Why hasn't the rest of it come down in the same kind of ratio? The main reason is the $13.5 million under STOB 50, which is utilities, materials, supplies and vehicles. That's not the purchase of vehicles; that's the repair and maintenance of government vehicles. The purchase of vehicles, I believe, goes through a special account. That compares to the previous year: an amount of $16.5 million. I was wondering if you could give us some general idea of what's in there, where it gets billed out to and how it gets recovered.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that this is essentially the same question as I was asked earlier, and we've undertaken to provide an answer to that tomorrow.
L. Fox: It's an interesting line of questioning from the member for Delta. I just want to follow up briefly so that I'm sure to understand the process. The minister suggested that customer surveys and supplier surveys were being done in terms of how they are meeting the demand of both the con-
[ Page 16313 ]
sumer of their service as well as the supplier of their service. What process is there within the Purchasing Commission to deal with any complaints by the consumer as well as by the purchaser? What process is used to follow up on those complaints?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I believe it's the same process as I described earlier. The complaints move through the hierarchy through a review process, eventually landing in the lap of the CEO, who does not deal with the day-to-day matters of purchasing and is therefore somewhat independent of the rest of the staff and the decisions that are taken. However, the final appeal is with the ombuds office. That's where it ends up if the parties aren't satisfied.
L. Fox: I've had some experience in customer surveys; it's a tool business uses pretty readily. If I understand the minister correctly, what would happen is that if a customer survey came back and had a problem with the service in X department, then this survey would be sent down to the department head, who would be asked to address the concerns that are outlined by the consumer and specifically address them with the consumer. Is that the process that he explained to me? If satisfaction isn't arrived at, how would the Purchasing Commission know? What kind of follow-up is done with the consumer by the Purchasing Commission? Or is it left up to the department head to say, "I've been unable to resolve this issue," and pass it on up? How does it move forward?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: If the survey contained a general concern rather than a specific complaint, perhaps no one would get back to the particular customer surveyed in that case. If the survey contained a specific complaint, an attempt would be made to resolve it and get back to the customer so that there is some level of satisfaction. In terms of the general concerns addressed in the surveys, I'm told that they would be, at some point, collated and discussed, and the policy in place would be reviewed to meet those concerns, if possible.
K. Jones: We've made some slow progress, I think. I'd like to go back to vote 39, page 161 of the Estimates, where we asked the question that, I think, precipitated all this. With regard to the Purchasing Commission operating costs, could the minister explain the fact that the operating costs have gone down only a very small amount -- still over $16 million -- between last year and this year, although the salaries and benefits have gone down by nearly half? The minister had indicated that the reason for salaries and benefits going down by $4 million was that that was the cost of operating government air services. Could the minister confirm that that was the actual cost of operating government air services for 1994-95?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is the operating cost differential of about $287,000, I understand. The reduction related to Government Air is $500,000. There are other efficiency reductions to the tune of about $200,000, and there is an increase in fuel expense for Crown corporations and the like, and that is $400,000. The net operating cost difference is approximately $300,000.
K. Jones: I just want to make sure I heard it right. You said that there was a $400,000 additional increase in cost for fuel?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain why there's an increase in fuel costs when there's a reduction in the number of employees?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the B.C. Ferry Corporation is a new addition for which we now purchase fuel as well, and that is why there's an increase of $400,000.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain why the fuel for the Ferry Corporation is included in the operating costs of the Purchasing Commission?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That's a service the Purchasing Commission provides, and there is a recovery for it as well.
K. Jones: Purchases for other agencies can't be considered as operating costs of your department. That's really cooking the books. I can't believe that we are hiding the cost of the B.C. Ferry Corporation within your ministry as operating costs. This is really the most idiotic set of books I've ever seen. Hon. minister, you have a serious problem in your ministry, and you'd better get to the bottom of it. This is unbelievable. You don't know why there's a difference between the operating costs because there's half the number of employees? You have hidden fuel costs for Ferries tucked into your operating budget? How many other things have we got hidden in here? Please explain this.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: That's a service that the Purchasing Commission provides, and there is a recovery for it. That's all I'm going to say; I don't think it needs further explaining. There is no hiding here, hon. Chair.
K. Jones: How many other services have you got hidden in the operating costs of your Purchasing Commission? Could you please tell us? What else is in there? Have you got horses on the payroll?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The deputy minister will answer that question for you; my apologies.
M. Nicholls: Just to provide an explanation to the member's question, what we're looking at is an increase in fuel cost, for one thing. The Purchasing Commission purchases in bulk, because there's a savings to be had by purchasing in bulk. B.C. Ferries is a new addition to that bulk purchase, therefore the costs have increased accordingly. We recover those costs, so there's a recovery back to the ministry for those purchases.
K. Jones: This is the most unusual bookkeeping I've ever seen in my life. Operating costs are usually the costs of operating a department, a ministry or an agency. That's the cost of operating, not the business you do while you're operating. It's the actual cost of operations.
I suppose you're going to tell me that since you showed recoveries of $14 million and the operating costs were $16 million, your true operating costs are actually $2 million. Is that what you're trying to say now?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: An operating STOB doesn't necessarily mean that it's operating for the entity that we are. It is
[ Page 16314 ]
perhaps operating for the entities that we purchase for. If the hon. member examined the Ferry Corporation under the Minister of Employment and Investment, part of the recovery that we have made in our accounts here would be shown as a disbursement on their account.
K. Jones: So?
The Chair: Shall vote 38 pass?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Aye.
K. Jones: The minister says: "Aye." So the minister doesn't have an explanation for this most unusual bookkeeping. Could the minister tell us why his operating costs do not show a reduction as a result of government air services not having any operating costs?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: If I remember correctly, I gave some figures. A figure of $500,000 was mentioned as a reduction relating to the wind-down of Government Air. I think there is one thing that the hon. member should know, going back to the fuel purchase. When we purchase in bulk, that creates efficiencies for the entire government. The Purchasing Commission is obviously being used as a vehicle to create that efficiency for the government and for the taxpayers of British Columbia.
K. Jones: The minister is trying to put this mess into a good light by showing that he's trying to make some savings by bulk purchasing for the ferries, but he doesn't explain the other aspects of a drop of $4 million in salaries and benefits. He's saying that he's got a $500,000 operating cost for government air services, yet his whole ministry is operating on $4 million, and he's got an operating cost for it of $2 million.
How come it's costing so much more for the Purchasing Commission to operate than for government air services, which was condemned as being an unprofitable operation? Could the minister maybe put the Purchasing Commission up before Treasury Board for a proper investigation into the way it's operated? If government air services is an unprofitable operation but has a much smaller operating cost for the number of staff and is usually a high-volume user of gasoline and other high-expense items, what is there in the operating costs of the Purchasing Commission that warrants being four times as much?
[J. Pullinger in the chair.]
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I would refer the member to the blue book. On page 268 there is a definition of what the operating costs are and what's included in the operating costs.
K. Jones: Yes, hon. minister, I refer you to that, and I expect you to look at that in light of the fact that we are comparing that same category for the government air services and for the operation of the Purchasing Commission -- except the Purchasing Commission costs four times as much for the same number of people.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is a reduction of, I would say, about $3 million in the total costs with respect to the Purchasing Commission. It's reduced from $9.6 million to about $6.9 million.
K. Jones: If the minister is doing his arithmetic on the costs that produce those figures, he will find that there's a $1.5 million reduction in recoveries in this year and also a $4 million reduction in the cost of the salaries and benefits. There's where he gets that lower figure for the total cost of the Purchasing Commission. It's quite evident that that's the case.
But he's not answering the question. Government air services was identified by Treasury Board as an inefficient operation. The Purchasing Commission's costs of operating are for the same number of salaries and benefits as government air services, yet the operating costs of the Purchasing Commission are four times greater than the government air services figures that the minister has given to us. How can he not understand that very simple arithmetic?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I think I've already explained that to the member, and that's the end of my explanation.
K. Jones: I will then take the minister to the next set of arithmetic, since he doesn't have an answer to that expenditure and that gross inefficiency of operations, if his figures are correct.
In order to bring some efficiency to the process, we gave the minister a list of items. In order to speed up the process, we requested that they be supplied. Some of these have been supplied. We appreciate the work done by the minister's staff in compiling some of it, but I would like to ask that some of it be improved upon, because there's some question between the figures that are given to us and the figures that we were able to do a quick tally of. I had some knowledge of one particular area that didn't jibe with the figures that were given to me, so I went to the telephone directory of last December in order to get an idea of how many people were involved. The figures that were given to us relate to how many FTEs are employed in each program, how this compares to last year for each program and how many of them are on contract.
Just going through them, hon. minister, I found that some areas, like Enquiry B.C., show only one FTE for 1994 and the same for 1995-96. In looking at the telephone directory under Enquiry B.C., there are actually three employees working for the ministry, plus there's a whole raft of contract employees who are providing the actual service. Could the minister tell us how many contract employees are providing the service of Enquiry B.C.?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: With respect to Enquiry B.C., I understand there is one FTE within the ministry that manages the contract for the services of Enquiry B.C. I understand there are about 24 different contracts that that particular individual manages.
K. Jones: I'm just looking at the telephone directory for Enquiry B.C. so that I can point out to the minister that there's a program manager, a directories coordinator, an enquiry centre manager, plus the contracted services. Could the minister tell us how many people are under that contract?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I stand corrected. I understand there are 24 or 25 employees of the contractor who provides the service. There is only one individual who is reflected in the FTEs and is an FTE for the ministry; other individuals work for the contractor. The individual within the ministry manages that contract for the ministry to make sure that the contractor
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lives up to the terms and obligations of the contract in order to provide efficient service for the people of British Columbia through Enquiry B.C. I'm glad that my hon. colleague lets his fingers do the walking for him.
K. Jones: When we have certain knowledge of something like that, we try to verify it rather than come in and accept information that was given to us, especially when there's some indication that there may be some doubt about it. The minister says that there's only one person working for that program, yet there's a directories coordinator, a program manager and the manager of the Enquiry centre in Vancouver. Could the minister explain how that adds up to one?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that there are three individuals listed in the telephone directory. One individual listed no longer works for the ministry. The other individual listed works for the Ministry of Finance in some other capacity totally unrelated to Enquiry B.C. There is only one FTE within this ministry who is related to this issue.
K. Jones: So the correction on this 1994-95 figure should be three, and the 1995-96 figure should be one. Is that correct?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The correction is that there's always been one FTE responsible for the administration of this contract for service.
K. Jones: Which of these three people listed under Enquiry B.C. in the telephone directory is that one FTE?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I would be loath to talk about individual employees and mention their names.
K. Jones: We're not doing that; we're talking about positions.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Well, I don't remember all the different positions you read out, hon. member. I'm given to understand by the officials of my ministry that there is one FTE within the ministry who is responsible for administration of this contract. The contractor has 24 or 25 employees. The individual within the ministry makes sure that the contractor provides this service efficiently, based on the terms and obligations contained in the contract.
K. Jones: I'm sure the other two members listed in the telephone directory will be concerned that they're no longer employed with the ministry. Could the minister explain, with regard to public issues and consultation, why the report we received from the ministry said that there were 13 FTEs in 1994-95 and 13 FTEs in 1995-96. In the telephone directory for that same branch 18 positions are indicated.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I would take that question on notice and get back to the member. I'm not aware of the details of previous years. I'm giving you the information that at this time there is one FTE responsible for this particular contract. We would attempt to get back to the member with full information at a future date.
K. Jones: I hope that future date will be tomorrow. Could the minister assure us that it will be tomorrow?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes, it will be tomorrow.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain why the list of FTE information given to us for Government House shows six FTEs, while the listing for Government House shows nine FTEs?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that employees are job-sharing, so there would be more than one person listed for a particular FTE.
K. Jones: That's interesting. The thing is that they all have different job descriptions and different job titles. It doesn't look like they're job-sharing in this listing.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: They are; a particular position could be halftime -- half an FTE. Another position doing something different could be halftime -- another half FTE. That would combine to make one FTE, hon. member.
K. Jones: Could the minister explain the increase in FTEs for the government employee commuting options from zero to 2.5 FTEs, recognizing that there's not half an employee, but a halftime employee?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This was an approval later in the year. We had four FTEs within the ministry which have, due to cutbacks, been reduced to 2.5.
K. Jones: The minister is saying that there were four, but you only show zero for the 1994-95 year. Is this because they didn't count those four in last year's budget?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: They didn't exist at the time of the formulation of the estimates, and it was restated later on to four. It's now been reduced to 2.5.
The Chair: Shall vote 38 pass? Member.
K. Jones: Surely I have time to write. You're rushing me one minute and you're holding me back another minute. Give me a chance to make a note.
K. Jones: We'll give her half an FTE. Is that what you're saying?
With regard to the B.C. Gaming Commission, there are three FTEs. I believe there are seven commissioners. Could the minister explain?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the commissioners are not counted as FTEs. They're order-in-council appointments.
K. Jones: There are a few other areas of concern. I'll bring those up to the minister's staff after the meeting in regard to that aspect. Presumably the statement that there are zero contract persons would be modified to take into consideration the statements already made. Are there any other contracted persons within the ministry?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There are no FTEs in the Ministry of Government Services that are filled by contract staff.
[ Page 16316 ]
K. Jones: I distinctly heard the minister say there were 24 or 25 of them working for Enquiry B.C.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I said before, and I'll say again, those are not employees of the ministry. They are employed as administrative contract. The ministry does not administer the contract. We have one FTE within the ministry who ensures that the contractor provides those services in keeping with the terms and obligations of the contract.
K. Jones: With regard to the other questions, what are the main objectives of each program? There was a very, very brief statement given about the programs, but it more or less described the programs rather than looked at the objectives of them. We could go through a session of me going through each branch and asking these questions, or the ministry could probably provide us with a little more detail and more accurate description of the objectives of each branch to give us a better idea of what is actually happening in that branch.
Also, further to the next question that wasn't answered, how do you measure the effectiveness of each program? That's a matter of evaluation that I understand the minister said varied from one branch or one operation to another, and is not suitably answered in the reply letter.
With regard to how you measure the performance of the personnel in each program, again there is hardly any answer in the small response given to that. It certainly doesn't look at each branch or organization within the ministry as to how it does measure its personnel performance.
As far as the final question we asked, have the objectives of each program changed since it was first started? If so, how have they changed? That doesn't seem to have been responded to whatsoever.
Could the minister give us some way by which these could be dealt with?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We have a ministry that has many programs within it; the programs change all the time. It would be a rather lengthy endeavour to collate all of the changes that all of the programs have gone through over time, even over one year.
We have provided a list of objectives of the various programs for the hon. member. Those are the objectives. Obviously the member has had some briefings from various parts of the ministry from time to time, and the member is in fact free. This would be a lengthy exercise for the member, but he's at liberty to contact any of my ministry staff and ask for longer briefings, perhaps after the estimates. Those are areas that are not necessarily contentious in terms of the estimates but are areas where the member is desirous of gathering more knowledge for himself, and we will be happy to oblige.
With respect to measuring efficiency and productivity, I have already answered the question from your colleague for Delta South. We do have mechanisms in place to assess efficiency and criteria such as that.
K. Jones: With regard to the assessment process, the minister has indicated that he would be replying to my colleague for Delta South with details of those procedures. I would ask him to do that on a branch-by-branch basis as listed here, so we would be able to recognize the factors that are being used in the evaluation.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I referred to a term that I'm beginning to get used to in my response to the member for Delta South, and the term is measurable output. We have processes to deal with issues of that nature. We have program evaluations and business plans in all the various programs, and this would be a rather lengthy exercise for us to engage in. I suggest that if the member is interested in getting those details, he can sit with any of my officials after the process of estimates is complete and go through any of those issues. We will be happy to deal with that.
K. Jones: Would I be running into the same difficulty which I ran into prior to the estimates in attempting to meet with some of your officials, including the one to your right? I was turned down for an appointed meeting, and the reason was that I was not supposed to speak with him.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: From my experience within this ministry, my staff are extremely polite and cooperative. There are times when they have other business to attend to, and they may have been unable to keep an appointment or to meet with you at a time that was convenient to you or to them due to schedules. I can assure you, however, that we will extend to you the fullest possible cooperation under the circumstances, so that we can deal with the other issues that need to be dealt with in estimates. We can give you the information you need to know for your purposes at a time apart from the process of estimates debate.
K. Jones: Thank you for that undertaking, hon. minister. It was a little disappointing when we had scheduled meetings. At least two of them that had been scheduled were cancelled at the time we were arriving at the office, and it made me wonder about the sincerity of the previous invitation.
I would like to ask the minister if he could give us some indication as to how effectively the supply management division is operating.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Supply management includes the purchasing services, travel services, vehicle management and aviation quality assurance. All those functions are being performed quite well within the branch.
K. Jones: Recognizing that this has many branches under it, I'd like to start looking at some of them. Could the minister give us some indication of the value that the Travel Smart program is currently providing?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the Travel Smart program has made cost avoidance and savings of approximately $5 million in terms of the Business Travel Guide and in terms of the car rental agreements for this year, 1995.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us how the ministry evaluates the method of cost saving? How much cost saving is incurred in this?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that those are essentially the differences between what's called the rack rates and the
[ Page 16317 ]
government rates. Let me give you some of the success stories here. For example, the daily vehicle rental contracts averaged 30 percent discounts off standard rates and offer an estimated $2 million in cost avoidance. The accommodation listings in the Business Travel Guide offer an average of 21 percent discount off standard or corporate accommodation rates, with an estimated cost avoidance of $3 million if fully utilized.
Other areas, such as improved business meeting policies, permitted the use of any type of property, including resorts, while maintaining the requirement for selection of site to be based on the best overall value to government. This avoided major issues between government and resort owners.
We established an air charter coordinator position to assist ministers and ministry staff in arranging cost-effective and safe air charter services. And the services recently implemented in cost-savings avoidance have yet to be determined.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us how he is able to measure these various cost-saving factors? Are records kept of each arrangement for travel, hotel and conference purposes, or would a resort for conference purposes be used to measure and thereby detail the savings this year over the same type of usage last year? Is that how it works?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The ministry negotiates reduced rates for service and utilization, takes into account the utilization and arrives at a conclusion as to the amount saved.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us the cost of this particular service or operation?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: For the year 1995-96, the estimated cost is $112,271 -- a reduction of $4,432, which is about a 4 percent decrease.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us what cost savings were made from last year to this year through this program?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There was a reduction in the office and business expenses with respect to this particular program.
K. Jones: Of how much, minister?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Essentially the amount that I mentioned -- approximately $4,000.
K. Jones: Excuse me for being a little confused, but do you mean we saved $4,000 by spending $112,000? That's pretty good economy. Can we justify that? How many other ministry operations are operating on that basis?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I thought the hon. member was asking for the reduction over the last year. The restated estimates for 1994-95 were $116,703. The estimates for 1995-96 are $112,271. Therefore, we have a net reduction over last year of $4,432 -- approximately a 4 percent reduction.
K. Jones: I'll repeat myself because obviously the minister didn't hear very clearly. I was talking about the program. How much did the program itself, being in the position of providing all these services, reduce the overall costs of government from last year to this year?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We're obviously talking at cross-purposes here. Hon. member, if you remember, I already said that we saved $5 million by spending $112,000. I already said that we saved $3 million in one instance and $2 million in another instance: a total of $5 million, in addition to the other cost reductions that I mentioned that can at this point be ascertained.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us where those savings were made?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I repeat the first answer I gave to this series of questions, which was that we would be saving $2 million with respect to the daily vehicle rental contracts, averaging 30 percent discounts on standard rates. We would also be saving $3 million with respect to the accommodation listings and the Business Travel Guide, offering an average 21 percent discount on standard or corporate accommodation rates. Just those two examples add up to a saving of $5 million. There are others that I've indicated that at this time cannot be ascertained.
K. Jones: If this particular program did not exist, would the government employees not make the same discount as a group purchaser through the use of travel cards -- the credit-card systems that have been established for all government employees? Would the vehicle rentals be any different if this program did not exist? Would they be purchased normally, as most purchases are, by just going to Budget rental company, which is the designated contractor for the government?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I believe that if we want to create efficiencies across government, we have to have an agency or program that does the negotiating, does the streamlining in terms of utilization and provides the guides and information in a package that's available to all government users across the ministries. Therefore I think that we're getting good value for our $112,000.
K. Jones: I'd like to ask the minister once again: with regard to the $5 million that was saved, was that the saving from last year to this year?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This is an average estimated amount from year to year. I think it would be a very time-consuming exercise to look at each user, determine how much each user saved and then add that up. This is an educated estimate based on the stats and the information that this program has at this time.
K. Jones: So based on that, this program doesn't actually make the arrangements with regard to travel and the booking of the resorts for conventions and conferences. Is that what you're saying, hon. minister? It doesn't make the arrangements for the chartered aircraft?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This program establishes guidelines and provides guidance to ministries. No, it doesn't enter into contracts on behalf of ministries. Yes, it negotiates discounts for the use of various facilities. I understand that this program, in addition to doing everything else, does make reservations for air charters.
[ Page 16318 ]
K. Jones: So this program's only actual service on a day-to-day basis is that of making travel arrangements with chartered aircraft companies, and it has no other actual day-to-day operational role?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I already gave the hon. member the information, but let me repeat it. The program components of this particular program are: travel pattern information analysis and advice, travel policies and guidelines, and air charter coordination. Those are the three major components. In its day-to-day functions, it handles information-gathering and the negotiating function, in addition to the usual issues that it faces day to day.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us how it promotes environmentally friendly travel?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The main thrust of this program is cost-efficiency. In the process of doing that, if we can travel less and do teleconferencing or televideo conferencing without having to travel from one place to another, engage in dialogue and meetings, all that helps the environment. However, the main thrust of this program is cost-efficiency.
K. Jones: So now the program makes arrangements for teleconferencing as well? Is that an additional function not listed previously?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that the program encourages ministries across government to engage in that kind of endeavour rather than having to travel.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us how it encourages this? Is it through the publication of an annual travel guide? Is that what the function of this program is? Is it something that could be published by the Queen's Printer? They are very experienced in publishing various products.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: We try to encourage alternative means of travel as part of the arrangements and guidelines that we put in place.
K. Jones: Could the minister tell us when he received the report from the aviation safety branch with regard to the crash of the aircraft that was contracted to provide Medivac services into Masset?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The member knows that I was not the minister in charge at the time. I understand that the Transportation Safety Board is looking at this matter and actively investigating it. I don't think it would be appropriate for us to comment on it if that is happening. It's a federal jurisdiction.
K. Jones: Is the minister certain that he is not in receipt of a copy of that report at the present time?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand that there have been no findings of the coroner's investigation or the Transportation Safety Board inquiry at this time. I do not recall seeing a report in my hands or on my table.
With that answer, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 10:40 p.m.
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