2014 Legislative Session: Second Session, 40th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
official report of
Debates of the Legislative Assembly
Thursday, March 27, 2014
Volume 9, Number 3
ISSN 0709-1281 (Print)
ISSN 1499-2175 (Online)
Introductions by Members
Orders of the Day
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 5 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014 (continued)
Hon. S. Thomson
Reporting of Bills
Bill 5 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014
Third Reading of Bills
Bill 5 — Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014
Second Reading of Bills
Bill 15 — Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, 2014
Hon. S. Anton
Hon. S. Anton
Committee of the Whole House
Bill 14 — Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2014
Hon. S. Anton
Proceedings in the Douglas Fir Room
Committee of Supply
Estimates: Ministry of International Trade
Hon. T. Wat
THURSDAY, MARCH 27, 2014
The House met at 1:33 p.m.
[Madame Speaker in the chair.]
Introductions by Members
C. Trevena: Earlier today in the gallery for question period — and I apologized to them afterwards — were a couple of my constituents. They came in during question period. Mary Catherine Williams and her husband, Joedy Williams, had come down from Campbell River. They're in Victoria for a few days and decided to come and see what happens in the Legislature. They had not been here before and were delighted to see what we do in question period, listen to that and get quite concerned about a number of the issues that were raised. They then were able to have a bit of a tour of this House.
Mary Catherine works with the John Howard Society in Campbell River, and her husband, Joedy, is a youth worker at Timberline high school. They were very engaged in the debate and would have loved to stay a bit longer but did want to continue with their holiday. I hope that the House would retroactively make them very welcome.
Orders of the Day
Hon. T. Lake: In this House this afternoon we will call committee stage of Bill 5, followed by second reading of Bill 15. In the Douglas Fir Committee Room this afternoon we will have the estimates for the Ministry of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 5 — FORESTS, LANDS AND NATURAL
RESOURCE OPERATIONS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 5; R. Chouhan in the chair.
The committee met at 1:36 p.m.
On section 73 (continued).
N. Macdonald: I mean, obviously these guiding areas are worth a tremendous amount of money. If you look on websites, you can see that there are businesses that are willing to spend sometimes tens of thousands but other times hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases millions of dollars.
Is the government at all worried about the fact that with corporations now being up front and able to hold these, that it will push the cost higher if an individual, as in the past, that has been able…. Sometimes they're people that are simply enthusiastic hunters. They put a bit of money together and are able to buy a hunting area.
Is the minister at all concerned that with these changes that possibility will cease to exist? Has there been any, I guess, work done to see if prices are going to jump dramatically with this change? Or is the minister suggesting that this isn't a significant enough change to cause that?
Hon. S. Thomson: Actually, this will allow smaller operations, for example, to form partnerships through a corporate structure, able to get financing to allow them to enter the industry. So we actually think this provides opportunity, and then they're able to do it now in a way that provides for conventional financing and reduces risks. We think this provides opportunity. It's one of the reasons that the Guide Outfitters Association brought the request forward.
Sections 73 to 76 inclusive approved.
On section 77.
N. Macdonald: This sets out the fines and penalties. I guess the question is: what fines and penalties are available for offences under this act? If they're not in this act, can the minister lay out what other acts would pertain to making sure that the guiding areas are properly managed?
Hon. S. Thomson: These amendments here provide a number of new offences under the legislation. New offences: a guide-outfitter, if he employs an unqualified person as an assistant guide; a person who guides as an assistant guide without authorization; an assistant guide while prohibited; guide-outfitter fails to retain and provide records; assistant guide fails to carry written authorization; guide-outfitter fails to issue a written authorization to an employee — a number of new offences.
There are two levels of fines. Middle level: on first conviction, a fine of up to $100,000 or up to one year imprisonment, and for each subsequent conviction, a fine of between $2,000 and $200,000 or up to two years' imprisonment. Lower level: a fine of up to $50,000 or up to six months' imprisonment, and on each subsequent conviction, a fine of between $1,000 and $100,000 or up to one year of imprisonment.
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N. Macdonald: Is there the possibility of revoking the rights to the guiding area?
Hon. S. Thomson: Yes, under section 61 we can revoke the guide area certificate or the licence.
Sections 77 to 81 inclusive approved.
On section 82.
B. Routley: Under section 82, could the minister give us some explanation as to the problems that the changes in this section are trying to resolve?
Hon. S. Thomson: It updates the Wildlife Act's regulatory powers. It removes the reference to assistant guide licences, but then what it does is allow regulations to be made for the assistant guide scheme that will be put in place and sets out — allows us to make, under regulation — the qualifications that a person must have to guide, the requirements the person must meet to guide as an assistant guide, retention of records….
This is the section, as we talked about earlier in the debate, around the standards and the process that will be put in place, the regulations worked out with the Guide Outfitters Association to ensure that there is a scheme for the qualifications around assistant guides that ensures that they understand, that they're knowledgable and that this regulation would be approved and set up. It will be part of the regulations, but it will also be worked out by the director of the fish and wildlife branch.
D. Donaldson: I had a question about this section and a particular issue. I'm curious as to the ability now to award these tenures to a corporation and whether the implications of this have been explored with First Nations and whether First Nations were consulted and their concerns canvassed around the implications this might have on future rights and title issues and future negotiations and what impact this might have and the kind of discussions you had with First Nations regarding that.
Hon. S. Thomson: The section we're dealing with deals with regulations around assistant guides. But I think, in terms of a response to the member's question, first of all, MARR asked us to create this amendment to allow First Nations corporations to hold certificates. We think this provides opportunity for First Nations corporations in the industry. You're also aware that on any transfer, renewal of a certificate, a consultation process is undertaken with First Nations.
D. Donaldson: I appreciate that answer and the minister referring to that answer even though it's not necessarily covered in this particular section. He addressed First Nations who might be interested in forming a corporation in order to be awarded or take over a guide-outfitting-licensed area.
My question is on the implications for First Nations on whose territory the corporation might be awarded the guide-outfitting licence — and if any discussions were conducted with First Nations regarding future economic actions by First Nations on their territory.
Hon. S. Thomson: With the changes that are being brought forward with this legislation, what we are simply doing is changing the definition of the person to provide the opportunity for the certificate to be held either by a person or a corporation. All the other requirements, qualifications and processes around First Nation consultation in applications, renewal and transfers remain.
This change has no impact on the First Nations considerations within the change. Nothing else changes there, so there was not direct consultation on this specific change.
Where there was a specific request was the request that we, in doing this, ensure that there was the opportunity for First Nations corporations to be part of that definition. They are, by the nature of the definition of a corporation, so that was viewed as an additional opportunity for First Nations.
D. Donaldson: Thank you for that answer and that clarification. What I'm taking from the minister is that there's no concern around First Nations…. There's no further alienation by moving from a sole proprietorship, an individual owning these licences, to a corporation. He's convinced there's no difference, and it won't cause any issue with alienation of the land base that would result in conflict, which is what I am trying to get at.
I think both of us would agree that we don't want to see an issue of conflict and legal problems that will inhibit or have negative consequences on the guide-outfitters.
Hon. S. Thomson: We do not see any conflict with the changes that are being brought forward here.
N. Macdonald: For the information of the Chair, there are no further questions on any of the other sections coming forward.
On behalf of my colleague and me, I want to again thank the minister and his staff for the briefings. As I have said before in other things, I also appreciate the way the minister approaches not only estimates but these sorts of exercises on bills — very forthright and clearly doing his best to provide answers. As we've said in the past, as MLAs on the opposition side, we don't take that for granted and certainly appreciate it very much.
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With that, if the Chair wants to move us through to the end of the various sections, that would be fine.
Sections 82 to 85 inclusive approved.
On section 86.
Hon. S. Thomson: I move the amendment to section 86 that is standing in my name in the orders of the day.
[SECTION 86, by deleting the text shown as struck out and adding the underlined text as shown:
Wildfire Act Transition
86 (1) For certainty, section 66.1 (3) of the Wildfire Act, as enacted by this Act, must be applied and given effect in every legal proceeding commenced after
the date section 64 of this Act received First Reading in the Legislative Assembly February 13, 2014.
(2) Section 66.1 (3) of the Wildfire Act, as enacted by this Act, must not be construed as lacking effect, whether retroactive or otherwise, in relation to any matter because it makes no specific reference to that matter.
(3) The repeal by this Act of section 66.1 (4) of the Wildfire Act does not affect a legal proceeding against the government commenced on or before
the date section 64 of this Act received First Reading in the Legislative Assembly February 13, 2014.]
On the amendment.
Hon. S. Thomson: This is transitional. This is the amendment that provides clarity regarding the effective date of this section. It's an amendment we dealt with earlier in the session. It's the same effect and same requirement to change the wording to the bill "received first reading February 23, 2014," for clarity.
Section 86 as amended approved.
Section 87 approved.
Hon. S. Thomson: I thank the members opposite for the discussion and for the points that were raised and the clarification. As we do in our office, if there are further questions…. I know there were a couple of things earlier that we committed to provide some follow-up information on during the debate, and we will undertake to do that.
With that, I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete with amendment.
The committee rose at 1:54 p.m.
The House resumed; Madame Speaker in the chair.
Reporting of Bills
BILL 5 — FORESTS, LANDS AND NATURAL
RESOURCE OPERATIONS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
Bill 5, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014, reported complete with amendment.
Madame Speaker: When shall the bill be considered as reported?
Hon. S. Thomson: With leave now, Madame Speaker.
Third Reading of Bills
BILL 5 — FORESTS, LANDS AND NATURAL
RESOURCE OPERATIONS STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
Bill 5, Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Statutes Amendment Act, 2014, read a third time and passed.
Hon. T. Lake: I now call second reading on Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, 2014.
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 15 — LIQUOR CONTROL AND
LICENSING AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
Hon. S. Anton: I move that Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, 2014, now be read a second time.
The liquor policy review followed the B.C. government's most successful public engagement and made 73 recommendations that will enhance convenience, spark the economy, cut red tape and create new opportunities for businesses while continuing to protect health and public safety. Of these, 29 recommendations require changes to the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. This bill provides authority to implement 15 of them.
I'll explain each of them briefly.
This legislation will enable government to move forward on developing and implementing a retail model for liquor sales in grocery stores.
Permit time-limited drink specials such as happy hours, and permit government to establish minimum drink prices.
Allow the sale of B.C. wine, craft beer and spirits at
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Allow patrons to buy bottles of liquor to take home that are showcased at tasting festivals or competitions.
Enable facilities such as ski hills and golf courses to temporarily extend their liquor-licensed area to another part of the property, such as a patio or a barbecue area.
Create more streamlined requirements for manufacturers so that they can more easily expand their on-site tasting venues to include, for example, picnic tasting areas in a vineyard.
Allow manufacturers the ability to offer patrons liquor that is not produced on site, such as a winery selling a bottle of beer to a visitor.
Permit licensees to store some of their liquor in secure off-site locations.
Extend the Serving It Right program to all hospitality industry workers who serve alcohol, and require those who have completed the program to recertify.
Allow special occasion licence holders to serve U-brew and U-vin at family special occasion licensed events such as weddings. You can tell it's not one of my hobbies, Mr. Speaker, but I think a lot of people do enjoy that one.
Allow hobby brewer and vintner competitions.
Allow individual establishments that are part of a larger company to transfer small amounts of liquor between locations.
Allow U-brew and U-vin owners to own other types of licensed establishments.
Require licensed establishments and liquor stores to post educational information on the responsible use of liquor that has been developed in consultation with industry.
Finally, review the current penalty schedule for licensees who contravene the terms of their licence.
As we committed, we're moving quickly to make these changes. The remaining recommendations that require legislative changes need additional consultation and will require significant changes to the present Liquor Control and Licensing Act. They will be addressed during a full repeal and rewrite of the act in 2015.
S. Simpson: I'm pleased to get up and respond to Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act. As the minister has said, this bill was somewhat motivated by a piece of work that was done by the government, by the Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Policy Reform, when they proceeded to do their review.
The secretary produced the report around the liquor policy review that, of course, brought some 73 recommendations forward. Of those, as the minister has said, a handful — maybe about 15 or so — get dealt with in some fashion by this legislation. The rest will presumably be addressed at some time in the future, as the government has indicated its support for all 73 of the recommendations in this report, though it's not entirely clear how some of them are going to play out.
The situation we have here is that we have a piece of legislation that's pretty much enabling legislation. It's quite interesting. The key pieces that have generated most public discussion around this bill actually aren't covered by the bill in many ways. They'll be covered at some future time. Those pieces include liquor in grocery stores, issues around pricing and issues around the sale of licences and the potential sale of licences. We'll talk about those a little bit as we proceed here.
The one piece that is covered here a little bit, I think, is happy hour, and I'm sure that there will be lots of people who are interested in that particular aspect.
The interesting thing is that if we look at the report that motivated this initiative, the report that was authored by the parliamentary secretary and provided to the minister, it does lay out these 73 recommendations. Many of them are common sense. I think most people just say that it's about time that those things change. They're small items, and we'll talk a little bit about some of those, but they're important items for people in the industry.
Those changes have been made. But some of the bigger items, the ones that have got a lot more attention…. Probably the most telling thing about the report that was done was that there really was no analysis for these changes. The changes largely…. The parliamentary secretary and the minister have both spoken about this.
There were a number of people, significant numbers of people, who went to the website or who responded to the parliamentary secretary's blog. At one point I recall the secretary saying to the media that about 800 people had responded, saying they wanted to be able to buy liquor in grocery stores, and that had motivated a recommendation around liquor in grocery stores, which is fair enough.
However, the problem, of course, is that there are significant economic and financial questions about doing this. There are significant questions about the impact on the private liquor industry and how they will be affected. I suspect that's somewhat reflected in the fact that most of the people in the private liquor industry have been less than enthusiastic about this particular change and about whether it makes sense to take what is largely a small- to medium-sized business sector, the liquor store business, and look at potentially turning that over to the corporate food retailers.
While we're not exactly sure what constitutes a grocery store for the purposes of these future changes, these projected changes, it's a pretty safe bet that it will involve the larger players, whether it be the Overwaitea group, the Thriftys, the Safeways. Those people of that scale is where we are going to find these. They're going to be the people, if anybody, who are going to advance and want to put liquor in these stores — and, potentially, at the risk of some of the smaller operators.
It hasn't been totally sorted out how this is going to
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work, so I think that there are some questions. I think the minister would know this. One of the things that the people in the private sector have said to me is that it's created problems for them doing business today. The problem it's created, in some cases, is that in the case of some of these operators who are looking either at improvements to their stores or some form of expansion or changes in their stores, they have had challenges when they go to talk to their lenders, their financial institutions, about getting the money to make those changes.
The challenges they've faced is that the bankers — the banks, the financiers, the lenders — have said: "Look, we are simply uncertain about what these changes might mean for your industry. Consequently, we're uncertain about how to value your asset, because we don't know whether these changes will affect the valuation of your asset. If that happens, we may look at how we lend you money in a different way."
I've been approached by some of those people, saying: "Look, this is a problem, because the uncertainty that it's creating creates challenges for me as a business person in terms of how I proceed with this business model." That's the challenge with the report that was written. It did no analysis of this. There was no economic analysis in the review that said: "Here's what potentially happens in this sector." That's a problem.
We also saw, of course, and we have heard from organizations and groups — like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, like some of the addiction experts — who have said that they have significant questions and that they haven't felt that those questions have been answered in the review, nor are they seeing any answers in the legislation. Maybe we'll get an opportunity from the minister in committee stage to flesh some of those issues out and get some answers to that, but they've raised those concerns.
Part of the challenge, I think, around Bill 15, around this particular piece of legislation, is that for many people in the sector, it probably raises more questions than it answers, this piece of legislation. When you look at the schedule that the government has talked about, heading out into 2015, late into 2015, in order to implement a number of the changes that are envisioned here and have been talked about on the broader liquor review….
As the minister says, and officials in the ministry have told me, there will be, a year from now, another piece of legislation — I think the minister said a major rewrite of the act in its entirety — so we're going to see what that looks like at that time.
Presumably, at that time we're going to get a sense of what those changes might look like. This particular piece of legislation is pretty minimal in some ways in terms of what it accomplishes and what it does. The problem, though, is that the issues it engages are very real and very substantive issues for people in the sector and for people who are concerned about this. I want to talk a little bit about those issues that jump most to mind.
There's the discussion about putting VQA products in Safeways with a licence or a permit that is unique to them, and that's not a bad idea. I think that most people would say: "Well, if we can get VQA wines and some craft beers in and promote the B.C. product, that would be a good thing to do." I know, at least at this point…. We'll see whether the minister is able to provide us some advice on this when we get to committee stage.
I can imagine that with the trade agreements that are in place, it will take about a minute for the Washington State or the California industries to say: "Wait a minute. We want this product on these shelves too."
It's one thing to go and put local B.C. products in a farmers market on a Sunday afternoon. It's quite another matter to have shelf space in a Thrifty Foods or a Save-On-Foods where you're selling product. I think it's a pretty safe bet that those people in other jurisdictions where we have trade agreements are going to look at this and say: "How is it okay that those products are there, yet my products can't be on the shelf as well?" How do we deal with that?
We haven't received any answers or any response from the government on this and, as I understand, neither have others who have inquired of the government as to how to deal with that matter.
We also know that we've now heard that we have the cap on the 670 licences for private stores. Yet we're now hearing that agency stores, which are under the LDB act, are going to be issued licences under, in fact, that liquor control and licensing rather than under the LDB act — so that's 220-odd agency stores.
Then the question becomes, since we now know that you're going to be able to sell these licences and move them around the province, that the five-kilometre rule will no longer exist. For people who might be paying attention, the current rules say that if you buy a liquor licence, a licence for a liquor store, you can't move it more than five kilometres from its current location.
What happened in that instance, of course, is that people actually bought liquor stores. They bought the store. They bought the facility, and in most cases, with a few exceptions, they stayed where they were, and they operated their new business where it was located. The value was the asset — included the bricks and mortar in the store.
Now, of course, the asset is the piece of paper — much more. I can go to Quesnel and buy a licence and bring it to the Lower Mainland and open a liquor store in the Lower Mainland, as long as I'm a kilometre away from any other store in the area. That creates a problem, and we'll talk a bit about that.
You have this situation now where these licences are incredibly valuable. The potential for people to pick those licences up and want to relocate them out of communities and into other areas that are higher population and,
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potentially, better revenue-generating communities for a liquor store is significant.
While the government talks about the importance of convenience — that being part of the argument for the grocery store model — the reality we have is that you may create a situation where people who currently have liquor outlets may lose them. There may be less outlets in any given town or jurisdiction if there was a reason to relocate those because of the value of the licence. We may see that happen. That's a problem, and I think that's a significant problem. It could make some people who get to sell those pretty wealthy, but it's a significant problem.
As I said, we've got these agency stores, which are licensed under a different piece of legislation at this point, and agency stores or stores where you have communities that don't have other liquor stores, don't have other availability and access. These agency stores are given the special licence to be able to sell some product, liquor, in order to ensure some accessibility to liquor for people. You've got 220-odd of those agency stores. Now they're going to get a new licence, which will license them under the same piece of legislation as the current 670 permitted liquor stores.
Then the question becomes: if they have those licences, are they going to be able to sell those licences in the same way that a liquor store can sell its licence? Are they going to be able to sell those agency store licences and move them? Are they going to be under the same rules as this new set of rules for the 670 licensed liquor stores today which will be able to sell their licences and have them relocated?
Well, we don't know that, and maybe the minister will be able to enlighten us about that when the time comes on that issue.
Liquor in grocery stores. This is interesting. It's not entirely clear, other than for the 800 people or so who are on the blog, what exactly gets accomplished by putting liquor in grocery stores. Convenience, maybe. In most cases, though…. We certainly saw this in the research that was done by the Vancouver Sun. They looked at major food stores in the Vancouver area and found that out of 53, I think only two of them today could open a liquor store or a store within a store under the current rules because everybody else has a liquor store within a kilometre or less from their spot.
The reality is, and it should be no surprise to anybody, what the people who've opened private liquor stores, primarily — and some government liquor stores — have done is they locate near food stores because it's good for business. It makes sense in terms of them wanting to capture the market, because they know full well, as we've heard before, that somebody goes and buys their groceries, and they walk across the mall or the parking lot and go to the liquor store and buy their bottle of wine or their case of beer or their other beverage of choice. That's what they do. The convenience is real, and it's there.
We also know that in most cases those stores are significant. One of the things that's happened, and I think it's a positive in this industry, is you've seen some significant investment in private stores. What you have are stores that are physically quite nice. They're well-lit. They're well-stocked. They have specialty products. They have more commercial products. All of that's there.
These are significant stores in terms of what they carry, how they're supplied and how they're operated — very similar, many times, to a government store, when you look at them. I've gone into private stores and would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between some private stores and some government stores in terms of what they offer.
Part of the reason for doing this, of course, is they are significant. They're 3,000- or 4,000- or 5,000-square-foot facilities, and the significance, the size of them, allows for all of that variety, allows for all of that selection. What we know about the notion of the store within a store is that's not going to happen.
You go into…. Anybody, and I'm sure that the members of the House who have all gone shopping and been in Safeways…. We all know the major food chains and the major food stores have got a lot of product there, too, and they don't have a whole lot of space. If they're existing stores, they're going to have to remove something in order to create the space necessary to be able to put in the store within a store. Maybe they can carve out 1,000 square feet — maybe less than 1,000 square feet.
The question becomes: are you better off, in terms of that convenience, having 800 or 1,000 square feet of liquor store inside your Save-On-Foods, or are you better off walking 150 metres through the mall to get at the 5,000-square-foot store with all of the selection that it would provide? I think that's an important question.
Also, when you talk about convenience, and we'll have to see when the regulations get written…. The notion of a store within a store, with separate cashiering and teller services versus the tellers where you would check out food — is there a convenience there, when you have to line up at one teller in order to pay for your bottle of wine and then you go over and line up at the next teller to pay for your groceries? I'm not sure about the convenience there.
The other thing with this is that I think that there are a lot of people who looked at this and said: "I've been to California, and I've gone to this local store in California and been able to buy my product at Costco" — or wherever — "and they had a great selection. They also a very good price. They had a better price than the other liquor stores. They were able to better price because of volume." Well, I have heard no suggestion from anybody, including the minister or the parliamentary secretary or anybody else, that prices will necessarily be any lower in these food stores.
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Obviously, at the end of the day, they will make their own decisions, but the reality is that the markups are pretty firm. I just don't see how the prices get a whole lot better in a Save-On-Foods, where you pick up your bottle of wine or your case of beer, than in your private liquor store. There is nothing to indicate that the prices will be any better. I suspect that's one of the things that people who, in fact, were looking at the possibilities around these private liquor store options were hoping for.
The other piece that we're seeing here, of course, is the question also around the single price. This is interesting. I recall the parliamentary secretary, back when he was in the middle of his work and doing this, being asked about pricing issues and saying at that time that it was not part of his mandate to deal with questions of pricing. That would be dealt with at some other place or time. It wasn't part of his mandate in the work that he did in producing his report.
Yet, interestingly, the piece that jumps out is the decision around the single wholesale price. So that people know — some suggest it's quite complicated — we have a current pricing system where private stores are priced…. They receive a discount, and that discount is there to allow them to cover overhead and to create some profit for themselves. They are discounted off the price that's in government stores.
The suggestion now is that we will go to some form of single price. When I talk to folks in the private stores, they are mixed about this. Some like that idea; some are less keen about it. They don't have a sense of where that price is going to land. Is it going to land around where their pricing is today? Will the price in government stores be adjusted? Or are the prices going to move up? And how is that going to work?
What we know, of course, is that government revenue is a significant issue here. We know the government gets significant revenue. I mean, it probably puts about $1 billion a year, in that range, into revenues to help pay for other services. So it's a significant amount of money.
We've seen no analysis here — first of all, how this change in wholesale pricing might or might not work, and what it might do to revenue streams. We don't know that, and that's got to be a significant question. Where do you move the pricing? Do you move it in the private stores or in the government stores to create this level price? And how does that make sense? You have these issues where there just seems to be a whole lot more questions than there are answers in terms of how those matters will be dealt with.
You have a situation today where we have a system, in terms of liquor distribution, that works pretty effectively, and the opportunity for retail. We have about 1,400 outlets in the province where you can purchase liquor — 200 government and about 1,200 on the private side.
The system works pretty well. The revenue steam to government is pretty successful. The distribution system is very cost-effective in distribution, mostly because the money gets made in the markup. So you're not taking it out of distribution, trying to make your money out of distribution; you're making it out of markup on product. It allows distribution to be done very efficiently and very cost-effectively.
If you talk to people in the private sector…. Members will recall back a year or two ago that the government was envisioning the notion of privatizing liquor distribution. The discussion that was ongoing then was around privatization of distribution. Of course, at that time many of the private operators — brewers, those folks — were saying, "This is crazy to do this," because they looked at the Alberta model, where private distribution is in place and the industry's privatized, pretty much in its entirety.
They looked at what it cost them to move product in Alberta versus moving product in B.C., and it was much more cost-effective in British Columbia for brewers, for people who are in the industry. They didn't want the changes because it was going to increase their costs, which they would, of course, at some point have to pass on to consumers.
We have a very effective distribution system today, and it's not at all clear whether that will change. I think maybe this will come in next year's legislation when we see what's there. We know the government has mused about creating a Crown corporation to run the liquor industry or the liquor business for the province. That might make sense, I guess. As with most Crown corporations, the devil is in the details, and it will depend on what those details tell us.
We know that they're looking at selling current warehouse space around liquor distribution. I know that it's in my constituency, the current facility. It is an old facility, and it might make perfect sense to go and have a purpose-built facility somewhere else that's more effective and more efficient. But we don't know where this is going.
Consultants have been hired who have previously worked pretty closely for people who have been the strongest advocates of privatization, and those consultants are now advising government around distribution options. The door is clearly still open for them to provide advice that would suggest a different model, not just a different location. We'll have to see what happens with that when that discussion comes forward.
You have a situation currently where we have a report, produced by the parliamentary secretary, which is a shopping list of recommendations. You have a piece of legislation that's been brought forward that doesn't deal with most of them. It deals with things — and the minister talked a little bit earlier — but it essentially provides some ability for agency store licences and duty-free store licences now to be established with these different licences.
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We're not exactly sure what that's going to mean in terms of what you can do with those licences. It allows breweries and wineries and distilleries to sell and serve different types of liquor in different fashions and will allow private liquor stores to keep liquor off site. It makes sense.
It allows for liquor licences transferred, the transferee being able to use the licence while the LDB is completing its due diligence — a good thing to do. If somebody takes over a business, they should be able to run it while the agency does its due diligence to make sure that in fact they're somebody who we want to have a licence. It makes perfect sense.
It provides some additional training programs; allows for that. It allows for some changes structurally around the LDB, promotion of educational materials and, potentially, happy hour — which may be the thing that will be on most people's minds when it comes to this.
What it doesn't do is answer the questions on these big issues about what we're going to do with liquor moving forward. It doesn't answer questions about what the government's intentions are around current government stores and whether there's any view on that.
Now, we know that there are collective agreement issues. I believe the current collective agreement with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union in fact identifies the number of government stores that need to remain in place for the next number of years. I believe that's a collective bargaining issue.
I'll note for the hon. Speaker that I am the designated speaker here.
You have some ability to…. You have some limits on what can be done in the short term. That doesn't mean that plans can't be made going forward to make some further changes around those issues.
You have questions that get raised again around impacts on revenue. And what we know — just to note for people who may be following the debate — is that in fact the returns from the government stores are significantly better in terms of return to the public purse than in the private stores. The private stores do great business, and they work hard, and I have no complaints. But we get the better part of our return out of the government stores.
It's important to know that that is the case. So any suggestion that starts to change that model between government and private stores or changes the model in any significant way by adding another player in — in this case maybe the corporate food retailers, the big chains — is going to change the funding model or going to change the revenue stream model, potentially, that comes to government. That is a serious issue for folks involved in the delivery of services.
When we look at some of these issues, you have to ask yourself whether the government is going to have to make changes to this legislation. The one-kilometre rule…. What that rule says, for those who might not know, is that you can't have a liquor store within a kilometre of an existing store. As I have noted before, the Vancouver Sun did some assessment — I think it was the Vancouver Sun — of what happens in the city of Vancouver and how almost no food store could take advantage of a licence currently unless they were able to buy out and advance an existing licence at some point.
The challenge there, of course, is: how is this going to work? Are they going to look to buy those licences out? Are they simply just not going to engage in this? We haven't heard, really, from the food industry, the retailers, very much about how they feel about this. What we do know, my understanding, is that they didn't ask for this, that they weren't making the requests for this opportunity. Clearly, if it comes, they'll take advantage of it, particularly if their competitors are taking advantage of it.
As we get to the committee stage here of this legislation, we're going to be looking for the minister to be able to answer some pretty specific questions about how these models are going to work moving forward and about the rationale around single pricing, wholesale pricing. How will the permitting and licence sales be operated so that it works? What are the projections for takeup in terms of potentially shifting a significant amount of this business into the food retail operations?
What might a store within a store look like, and what is the thinking around how that will function? Who will be eligible, and who won't be eligible? How, with the new licensing model, will there be assurances that smaller communities and outlying communities won't, in fact, lose their current stores to people who want to purchase those licences up and relocate them to places that create better revenue opportunities? And when that occurs, what happens to that community where the licence exited the community, and how do they still continue to get the services that they will want?
We'll be looking…. There have been questions, as I said, that have been raised by people in the private sector who are concerned about this, who are owners of private stores and others who are quite concerned about the model. We'll be asking some of their questions to see if we can determine answers that will help them to better understand what is and isn't occurring here. Folks around Mothers Against Drunk Driving and others have raised concerns about broadening out these sales, have raised concerns about how happy hour will be managed. We'll be looking for answers there.
We'll be looking to get a better sense of how the government is consulting with local governments. Obviously, any time you're dealing with liquor and the sale of liquor, it sometimes creates, at a very minimum, responsibilities for local governments around policing, around other issues of potential noise and disturbance that can sometimes come with liquor. What consultation has been done there about what the expectations are about how local
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governments will be able to manage or control the decisions that are made around where outlets will and can be located, including authority they have now, and will any of that change as we move forward?
I suspect a lot of what we'll talk about will be things that will be almost foreshadowing maybe next year's legislation as much as what is in this legislation.
Part of the reason for needing to get at these questions is because this is a piece of legislation that's very similar to many things that the current government puts in place. It's what is called enabling legislation. It tends to create frameworks that answer few questions but allow for change to be done through regulation.
Change through regulation is change that can be done behind closed doors. It can be done without any discussion in this chamber at all. It can be done in ways that at some point you read about it in the B.C. Gazette down the road somewhere, that the changes have been made and that this is what the regulatory regime will be.
That's a bit problematic with areas like this, because there does need to be a public discussion. The public discussion has to be one that's more engaged, with all due respect to the parliamentary secretary, than the parliamentary secretary in fact engaged in. It needs to be a place where there can be more back-and-forth and more discussion. What we certainly know from talking to people in the private sector is they continue to not have answers to many of their questions and concerns about how this will unfold. We're going to try to get a few of those answers anyways when we get to committee stage of this.
As I said, this particular piece of legislation is pretty modest in many ways in terms of what it looks to accomplish. Some of it's pretty benign, and some of it's just common sense. There may be some pieces that we'll have to look at more closely as we move forward, but this is only the beginning of a much bigger debate about liquor policy in this province.
This legislation is only the beginning of that much bigger debate about liquor policy, and I'm sure that debate will continue well into next year. Since many of these changes are anticipated well into next year, in 2015, we'll be talking about it for some time to come.
I look forward to the comments of others who, I'm sure, will be getting to their feet here in moments to add their contribution to the debate, and I look forward to getting to committee stage in the coming days or weeks, where we can try to get to some of the more substantive pieces of this legislation. Where, as many have said, it's raised more questions than it's answered, we'll see if we can get some answers to those questions as we move forward.
J. Yap: It's an honour to rise and participate in second reading debate on this bill, Bill 15, Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, 2014, one that I've had the privilege of having a role in leading to this stage and why we're here today to have this debate.
I, first of all, want to express that this was a truly interesting and educational opportunity, to have this role as Parliamentary Secretary for Liquor Reform and to engage in this consultation, this review, which actually truly captured the imagination and the participation of so many British Columbians. As has been said in the past but bears repeating, this was the most — how should I say? — successful public engagement of this kind by government.
I heard the comments of the member for Vancouver-Hastings and would respectfully disagree. We actually had a great consultation, great engagement over about 90 days. Over 76,000 visits to the B.C. liquor reform website. People spent, on average, eight minutes, which, in the world of social media, is significant. People were interested. People wanted to give their feedback: 41,000 ratings were provided and 4,900 mentions on Twitter, which we all know is becoming part of the world we live in, in terms of communication and discourse.
I had the opportunity to post ten blogs, and they all, without exception, generated a lot of interest from British Columbians. Over 4,000 blog comments, some very thoughtful. There was back and forth. On a couple of occasions I had a chance to actually provide some live feedback on the blogs.
We also had 3,600 private e-mails and letters — the traditional handwritten letter — as well as, importantly, 75 stakeholder presentations, which took place all around the province, every region of the province. We received about 188 stakeholder submissions.
So quite comprehensive, as you can see. This truly was, for me, one of the most interesting files that I've had a chance to work on as an MLA, and the work continues.
As we went through this consultation, this engagement, it was clear that British Columbians were truly interested in this issue, and it's easy to see why. Liquor is part of life for many British Columbians. It's part of a cultural experience. It's part of a balanced, healthy lifestyle. But we also know that it's a product that has social and health impacts.
One of the things that we wanted to do from the outset was to ensure that we addressed all aspects of this issue. So the engagement and the report that resulted from it contained a lot of…. We did a lot of work, a lot of engagement, and have recommendations that reflect what I believe is a balanced approach, recognizing that, yes, we do want to support the hospitality and the tourism sector in terms of investment, job growth, tourism and communities that rely on these sectors and that we also want to provide opportunities for our producers, whether it's the excellent B.C. wine industry, as well as the emerging craft beer and spirits industries.
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All of that we heard loud and clear, but we also wanted to ensure that we addressed the health and social aspects of liquor. The recommendations reflect that, and the legislation that is being introduced, the amendments in this act, reflect that as well.
We heard during the review loud and clear that it was time for some commonsense changes, and I appreciate the comments of the previous speaker, the member for Vancouver-Hastings, who acknowledged that there were a number of changes that, really, all of us can agree on, no matter on which side of this House you sit.
This amending act will allow some of these changes to happen. For example, I think all of us would have some experience attending either festivals or events where there's historically been what's called a beer garden. The whole idea of corralling people who would like to have a beverage within a very small section — it came through loud and clear that that's really not very practical, and in some respects had a contrarian impact in terms of people potentially overconsuming, because they had to consume right inside the pen, as it were, or the restricted location.
One change, for example, with respect to beer gardens…. A great consensus that, yes…. We even heard from law enforcement officials who said to get rid of the "penning people in a beer garden" approach. That's just one example.
We heard loud and clear, though, from British Columbians, as we went through this review, on one issue which had really captured the interest of British Columbians. That was the aspect of convenience. Whether it was through the blogs, through e-mails or through discussions directly with British Columbians, with stakeholders — and I'm sure others have heard this — the question is often put this way, "Why can't I, as the consumer, when I go into a grocery store have the opportunity to pick up a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer while I'm buying my groceries?"
That's something that British Columbians overwhelmingly provided that feedback on — to the tune of 75 percent feedback through this engagement. That's clearly something British Columbians wanted.
Now, having said that, as the member for Vancouver-Hastings noted, British Columbia has a blended system, a hybrid system of government liquor stores, which had been the tradition in our country, and privately owned liquor stores. The opportunity to look at how we could respond to this overwhelming desire of British Columbians to have what others in other jurisdictions….
People travel. British Columbians travel across the line to the United States, other parts of the world. People have come from other parts of the world to live here and become British Columbians and share their experiences. They ask why we can't have what others in other parts of the world have in terms of this product, which is part of a balanced lifestyle and a cultural aspect as well.
The changes that will be introduced will allow the development of a new model, a store-within-a-store model, to provide that convenience that British Columbians expressed that they are looking for. This government will respond to that desire. There are some jurisdictions that already have this store-within-a-store concept. It's not something totally new, but we will have a made-in-B.C. approach to ensuring that we have a system that will provide that convenience.
As has been referred to, we want to do this in a respectful way, respecting the fact that many entrepreneurs and families around the province have made significant investments in private liquor stores. A recommendation is to phase in this transition, and the work is underway to look at how we can do this. There are a few things that have been done to ensure that the investment by those families, British Columbians who have invested in private liquor stores — that we respect their investment.
As the member for Vancouver-Hastings previously mentioned, one is the one-kilometre rule to ensure that there is some spatial separation between liquor stores. We also will be allowing mobility of these private liquor store licences so that there would be an opportunity for those operators who perhaps may choose to relocate their licence or potentially sell their licence. They could make that business decision.
The approach with these amendments is to address an issue, liquor, that is important to many British Columbians, to bring more convenience, to modernize our regulations in a balanced way, to recognize that there are social and health impacts, to support communities, to support the manufacturing sector — the wine industry, the craft beer industry. All of these, I believe, are being addressed with these reforms, with this legislation and the changes that will come in the new year with respect to the complete rewrite of the act.
I heard from many people who had either participated in the review or heard about it or followed it. They asked: "Well, okay, so what's next?" To the member's comments, we're making changes to move along. This exercise, although it was very educational and interesting for me, was not just to do an interesting review but to make some changes.
This act will allow us to introduce many of the changes. Roughly three-quarters of the recommendations, can be addressed in the short term with this legislative change and through regulation, as well, to implement the recommendations that were in my report.
Of course, I'm very enthusiastic about this bill, and I'm speaking in strong support of it. I know that there will be good dialogue and discussion about this important issue. The member for Vancouver-Hastings raised a number of questions, and I'm confident that during committee stage most of those questions should be addressed.
To conclude, I want to say to British Columbians
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and my constituents that we've heard from them. We understand that British Columbians want to see some commonsense changes. People want to see our liquor laws modernized. That's what this act will do, as well as the work that will continue to be done over the next number of months to implement the recommendations in my report.
The key here is an approach that is balanced. We've heard reference to…. One of the aspects is to ensure that social responsibility, more education, information and enforcement of the rules continue as part of a balanced approach to reforming the liquor laws of our province.
With that, I'll take my place. This is an important step after a most comprehensive public engagement on this important topic. To the minister, I want to express my appreciation for the opportunity to work with her staff and to continue to be a part of implementing the recommendations that came out of this very significant public engagement.
To British Columbians who participated in the review, I would say this — I'll say this on the record here in Hansard: thank you for participating. The input was valued and considered. This step today, moving forward with this legislation, is part of what you have participated in, in reforming the liquor laws of our province.
L. Krog: I don't think there's a substance in our society that is the source of more sadness, more depression, more health issues — with the exception, perhaps, of tobacco on the health side, in the strict health sense — than alcohol. My views on this are somewhat tempered by my brief attendance as a young man at a Salvation Army Sunday school when I was very little. So I have that sort of temperance view of things, even though I will freely admit here in the presence of my colleagues in the House that I'm no teetotaller, that's for sure.
I did spent a number of years working in the liquor store. It started back in the glorious days when Dave Barrett was Premier, actually, and it paid for much of my university. I'm terribly grateful to the province of British Columbia and to Dave Barrett for enabling me to do that and to leave school, unlike so many nowadays, without the burden of any significant student debt.
Having said that, I'm conscious of the fact that alcohol and its abuse and use are just part of history. It's biblical, if you can argue that that was God's gift to Noah. We have been consuming alcoholic beverages throughout history. If you ever take time to read any portions of Samuel Pepys's diaries, you'll see that he was a prodigious consumer of alcoholic beverages yet managed to achieve no small place in the history of the United Kingdom.
I do recall those days when it was, I think, still expected that women wouldn't enter what we referred to as beer parlours without being accompanied by a man. We had separate entrances. And I certainly recall the days before the advent of private liquor stores.
I don't know that I've heard anything, either in the remarks of the minister or her parliamentary secretary or anyone in society, that's convinced me in the last 40-plus years since I was legally enabled to consume alcohol that easier access to the purchase of alcoholic beverages is necessarily a good thing.
Now, I appreciate this will certainly cause some consternation amongst perhaps some of my colleagues on this side of the House and others as well, but I've never been convinced that having liquor stores within easy and convenient driving distance of where you live was necessarily a good thing.
I never thought the plethora of private liquor stores that has occurred as a result of government policy over these last many decades has necessarily improved community life, made our society any healthier or, indeed, promoted the general welfare of the public or increased employment significantly in a positive way.
The reality is that for many years in this province buying a case of beer at the beer parlour and purchasing all alcoholic beverages through a government-run liquor distribution system, in fact, I suspect, served the people of British Columbia quite adequately, as did all of those wonderful agency stores in small communities around the province that were relatively isolated and enabled some of those often family-run, mom-and-pop operations to survive because they had a product that all of us — well, I shouldn't say all of us — or many of us like to consume and that many of us enjoy.
At the same time, I'm not averse to realizing that we have and have had some of the more antiquated and silly rules when it comes to the delivery of alcohol in our society. I believe one of the definitions of "sophisticated" is "unnecessarily complex," and I think if there was ever a term to describe how alcohol was sold in the province of British Columbia, sophisticated would be a kind word. Most people tend to attach a more positive aspect to that word, but in fact I'm going to use it in the negative sense.
The concept, for instance, as the minister mentioned earlier in her remarks today, that a family celebrating a wedding couldn't consume a beverage produced by that very family seems — how shall I say? — a bit retrograde and silly. The prospect that you could only get certain things at certain places — likewise, a bit silly. The concept that we, successive governments, have promoted a very successful wine industry in the province of British Columbia yet so restricted in terms of samples and not able to sell other types of liquor just seems, again, a bit silly.
I am of two minds on this. I realize we're not going back to what I will refer to as the good old days when the government was raking in all of the profits off the sale of alcohol in British Columbia, save and except for bars and restaurants. But at the same time, I am concerned that in moving to the new system that the minister and
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her parliamentary secretary have talked about, we may end up creating a system that might not serve the public interest over the longer haul.
The devil will be in the details, essentially, as my friend from Vancouver-Hastings pointed out. It will be in terms of the policy that results from this legislation and the promised full repeal and rewrite of this act in 2015 and how those regulations actually define what it's going to look like.
[D. Horne in the chair.]
I am concerned, also, because there are a number of family private liquor stores in my community, for example. I know the families. I know the people. These are responsible business people. They run good operations. They treat their employees well.
I am concerned that there could be some detriment to those operations and, in particular, anyone who's looking at expansion or change right now, as was pointed out by my colleague. Banks have been extremely difficult to deal with in the last little while as the state of liquor policy in this province has definitely been in flux.
I'm also concerned that we may arrive at a stage where, like the supply management system for milk…. The quota cost of milk now essentially prohibits anyone from getting into the business. Now, I'm not suggesting we abandon the supply management system — that is a discussion not for this place, in any event, and a discussion for another day — but I am concerned about the concentration, if you will, of private licences in corporate hands with the potential increase in value of those licences.
We've seen the same problem arise in the fishing sector where we have seen so-called slipper fishermen, I think they're referred to, who sit at home and live off the proceeds of the licence that they let someone else use and operate to fish with. In a sense, government has created an asset of incredible value by legislation and — how shall I say? — created winners and losers.
If that's the intention of government policy and that's what we want to do, then so be it, but let us recognize that that is certainly a possibility here. What happens to these licences? Again, as my friend has pointed out, we probably won't see any significantly more convenience, if you will, in terms of accessibility, in the Lower Mainland, but I would be concerned that in other communities you may, in fact, see less access in a way that is perhaps unfair and unreasonable.
I've never suggested we should ban the sale of alcohol. I'm not calling for an amendment to the constitution like they did in the United States and lead to prohibition. But at the same time, if I can pick up the licence for the liquor store in, say, Tofino, and retail it in Victoria, for instance, for substantially more, does that mean we have to wait until another licence becomes available and some entrepreneurial type who's willing to take the risk and convince a bank to loan the money will, in fact, then secure a licence and bring it back into Tofino?
If there isn't reasonable access to the purchase of alcoholic beverages, does this mean that the government liquor stores will be in a position to set up operation, then? Does this mean that someone will be able to apply easily for a so-called licensed store, the kinds of stores that have provided service in remote communities? What are we going to do when it comes to defining what those remote communities or problematic locations are going to be?
It seems to me that we are going at this somewhat piecemeal. I appreciate the pressure from, certainly, a portion of the public around reforming or changing the laws relating to this. But when we're talking about doing, in 2015, a full repeal and rewrite, is this such a pressing social issue that these changes were required now, as opposed to doing a full-blown change in one fell swoop that would set the playing field up, if you will?
Everyone would know what the rules are, as opposed to this almost twilight zone kind of approach where there is uncertainty, which is causing some economic hardship I know, particularly in my community, to one operator who's in the process of expanding and relocating. And at the same time, it potentially creates an opportunity for someone with deep pockets to take advantage of the driving down of the price.
I mean, I think it's quite apparent. I know this from talking to private operators in my community. With the changes that have been talked about and proposed, with the changes relating to what I will call essentially the decriminalization of drunk-driving laws in this province and reduction to merely an administrative or fine-based penalty system, they have seen the value of their stores and operations and pubs diminished significantly, not dissimilarly, I would suggest, in the same way that we have seen a tremendous drop in the value of real estate assets on the Gulf Islands because of government policy around ferries.
Whatever we may be saving in terms of millions of dollars arguably by reducing routes and sailings, those people in particular who own property there, who live there, whether it's a vacation home or their permanent residence, have seen that money simply evaporate. No different than when the price of a stock collapses, the value is literally gone.
Are we in a process that is going to cause significant loss — I would suggest potentially we may be — to individuals who are already in the business or who are anxious to get out of the business? Or are we going to see, perhaps, some gold rush, if you will, of large, heavily funded corporate bodies being able to snap up licences and drive up the cost and, perhaps, at the end of the day, not see any significant benefit to consumers — if you can call either reduced pricing or greater accessibility to pur-
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chase these beverages a benefit?
I think that liquor policy is always a difficult one for society. Lord knows that every government is now absolutely addicted to dealing with people's addictions in terms of revenue. Whether it's gambling and gaming or the sale of alcohol, governments are addicted to it. It's a cliché. It's not — how shall I say it? — in my view a cliché that's overused. It's absolutely true, and we see it everywhere.
My concerns around this legislation are based on the uncertainty it brings about in terms of the liquor industry generally and its distribution and sale. I certainly am supportive of the changing of regulation and laws that are, frankly, seen as a bit silly and that the average members of the public see as silly. But at the same time, I'm not sure that we send the appropriate message, regardless of the fact that it's going to be potentially set apart as a separate entity in a large food store. I'm not sure it sets the correct — how shall I say? — image for the young when alcohol is grabbed off the shelf with the same ease as a box of cornflakes.
I'm not entirely convinced we are sophisticated or an old society in the way that many of the European countries that many of us visit and admire and respect in terms of their social licence, if you will, and their attitudes towards alcohol and its consumption are. I'm not sure we're there yet, but I will vote in support of this legislation. I think there will be an awful lot to do, though, with respect to the minister explaining the full effect and impact of the changes that are proposed.
I am concerned most certainly about the discounts that are being offered. The rural agency stores are getting 12 percent now. Regular private liquor stores get 16 percent, and independent wine stores are getting 30 percent. If we are going to continue to regulate the sale and distribution of alcohol, and I would suggest we should, most certainly, then I think it's important that we decide what exactly we are trying to achieve by that.
If the concept that the government has is to eventually create an entirely private system, then they should say so. I suppose we'll see that in 2015, one way or the other. If their intention is to allow this mixed system of private and public liquor stores to continue, so be it. If there's to be a system that takes into account changing attitudes, so be it.
But I think at the end of the day what we really have here are a lot of questions, not that many answers, not the kind of certainty that is good.
Government has to understand — and I hope and trust that the minister does — that uncertainty in the marketplace is bad for the economy. When things are uncertain, investment dries up, lenders won't lend and employment is not created. We will see, I suspect, some very negative aspects of this unless the government makes it absolutely clear where we are going.
I think the concept, quite appropriately, that the BCGEU has expressed in the move towards equal wholesale pricing is a reasoned and sensible position. If all we're really trying to do is provide alcohol more readily and one of the aspects of that is to drive down wages in a sector where people can earn a decent living and pay taxes and support all of the other programs that we value, then I don't think it's good public policy. It's not going to achieve any social good.
Moreover, we have the issue, as I say, of the fear of competition for the small, private family liquor store owners, as I will call them, from the sale in massive grocery stores. With great respect, the most successful private capitalist in British Columbia, Jimmy Pattison, is in a position — controlling as much of the grocery market as he does — to buy up licences in a way that possibly very few corporate entities are able to. These are all concerns.
I look forward to what other members have to say on this, and I certainly look forward to the Attorney General's response in committee stage of this bill. The devil truly is in the details in this one.
J. Martin: It's a privilege to be here today to speak to Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, introduced this year. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity throughout the thorough, exhaustive process of consultation to engage in dialogue with the parliamentary secretary on this particular file.
I'm also fortunate to have living in my riding a constituent and good friend who is the president of ABLE, which is a representative body for the private retailers. I think I've become fairly thoroughly versed in the range and the breadth of this piece of legislation. As I say, it's great to be able to speak to it.
If I may, I'd like to talk a little bit first about process. One thing, I think, that is becoming very, very obvious, becoming very, very clear, is that this government is demonstrating more openness, more public engagement and more consultation than any previous administration.
If we think about the speed limit review that went on, it was a touring forum that went from community to community to community. People from Highways and from the ministry were there. They had charts. They had information. Citizens were filling out questionnaires. We're getting a huge range of opinions and concerns and viewpoints on speed limits and other issues around traffic. It's unprecedented.
Similarly, the Ministry of Environment with the water sustainability legislation — one of the most open, exhaustive processes of public engagement and consultation that has ever happened in this province. That piece of legislation hadn't been updated in 100 years, and the minister and her staff made every effort to get as much public input into that process as possible.
We also saw that with the disability white paper. Again, a touring forum went from community to community and heard from citizens, heard from people on challenges,
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obstacles, different ideas and proposals to address issues of mobility for those with disabilities.
In conjunction with this review on the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, I think this government has shown that it is willing to engage the public in a consultative two-way manner that is literally unprecedented. It's an honour to be able to see the results coming in and to be able to speak to what is soon going to be voted on in this particular House.
If I can digress for a moment. It was either 1984 or 1985 that I had the privilege of being at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, Texas, about 80 miles outside of Austin. Kerrville is one of the most famous folk festivals in the world. Sadly, most Canadians know of it because it was the last venue that our own Stan Rogers ever played before that fateful day when his plane went down.
I was there for a couple of days at the festival. Jerry Jeff Walker was the headliner. It was probably the best show I ever saw in my life. And one thing that struck me as absolutely bizarre and out of this world was that I could buy a beverage and walk around the folk grounds. I could go where the bands were. I could go to where the merchandising was. I could go from the little stage to the big stage area. I could actually have a beer in my hand, and I wasn't being tackled by security. And I thought: "Wow, this is Texas, and they're letting me get away with this."
I was thinking: "What is going on back home that our beer gardens are literally corrals?" They're cages. I wouldn't want to see chickens cooped up like that for very long on a summer day. We can talk about regulation. We can talk about policy and all the other issues associated with this piece of legislation. But more than anything else, it's about modernization. It's about a piece of legislation that is overdue for reform and modernization.
This is exactly what this process has done, and my hat is off to the parliamentary secretary and the Attorney General for having the fortitude to move this forward and modernize, basically, an antiquated Victorian-era liquor act that was well overdue for reform.
Victoria. This is the birthplace of craft brew. This is the best place for craft brewing in the country. Just across the harbour is Spinnakers Brew Pub, the very first brew pub to ever open in Canada. That is a magnificent facility. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend it. Swans Brew Pub — again, stellar. You've got some of the best craft beer producers, craft ale producers, right here in Victoria. You've got Phillips, Driftwood. I mean, it's just a spectacular array. And we have not been able to support the craft brewers the way we should be able to.
Eventually we got around to being able to support our absolutely world-class wine industry. We've done that. This piece of legislation, among many other things, is going to be very, very helpful in supporting our craft brewers, making their product more available, accessible. It's basically, again, bringing us into the modern era in how we celebrate and how we market a world-class product.
In my own riding in Chilliwack I've got one of the gold-medal winners in craft brewing, Old Yale Brewing with their Sergeant's IPA. They have just been able to expand into a newer facility. They are ecstatic about being able to sell growlers, the prospect of a tasting room, being able to market their product in a way that craft brewers have not been able to do in the past.
This legislation — still in the early stages, obviously — is one of the things that's going to help entrepreneurs like that. We've got such a vibrant craft industry. Among other things, this legislation is going to be very valued. More than anything else, I think what Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, does is that it strikes that balance.
That's probably the toughest thing for government to do, particularly with a product like alcohol, with the health concerns, the social issues. Many of the peripheral concerns around alcohol make it a very, very tough file to move forward on. In getting that balance, we don't want to be completely, obviously, the Wild West, where you can go into any gas station or pop shop and pick up a dozen beer. But we've also seen what happens with overregulation, and that's not necessarily a good thing either. I think this strikes the proper balance.
Obviously, alcohol is not like a meat shop. It's not like a tire shop. It requires regulation. Government is not going to say anything if two butchers set up in the same plaza, but obviously there are some concerns around a heavy concentration of venues selling alcohol. So we're maintaining that one-kilometre rule, and that is going to, in almost all circumstances, prohibit having more than one venue selling beer, wine, spirits within a kilometre of another. That's good for business, it's good for consumers, and I think it's good common sense on behalf of the ministry to maintain that one kilometre.
On the other hand, we also recognize that this is a legal product and we need to be responsible in how this is made available. Consumers and the public made it very, very clear that they were not satisfied in all areas of availability, and this legislation responds to that without opening up the floodgates. It's a tempered, moderate response to what the public wants. This government, being a free enterprise government, one that recognizes the forces of the free market and appreciates the input that the public has as consumers, responded to that, and with this piece of legislation I think they've done so in an admirable manner.
I'll spend a few moments, if I may, and speak to some of the specifics. I know other members are going to address different points here.
One of the things that makes this unique is the two-part model that British Columbians have called for, in convenience. This notion of a store within a store, being able to…. It's not all that different than in some grocery
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stores where the electronics area is kind of corralled off from the rest of the store and there's a separate till there. It's a responsible way to do it. It keeps it out of the hands of minors. It's not aisle after aisle of a particular product that some consumers may want no part of. It's going to be done in a very responsible manner.
The store-within-a-store model is not entirely unique. Other jurisdictions have done it. It seems to be, again, a good balance between opening up the availability of beer, wine and spirits while still maintaining responsible controls that promote safety, restrict access to minors and do so in a very friendly consumer environment.
The second model that this legislation does — and this, in particular, is going to be extremely well received by the public — will be the flexibility to accommodate VQA licences as well as a number of new licences that sell VQA wine in grocery stores. Under this particular model, wine will be allowed to be sold off at designated tills.
Yes, we want responsible control. We don't want a wide-open situation that we see in some other jurisdictions. But if somebody goes and picks up the supplies for a Caesar salad and may be going to pick up some pork tenderloin to grill up, it's kind of nice to have the option, if one so wished, to be able to pick up a nice bottle of Okanagan Merlot to go along with that. That's modern. It's not excessive. It's not doing anything radical here. It's respecting consumers as responsible adults, and we're delivering it to them in a very responsible manner.
These changes are going to be part of a phased-in approach that will try to lay the foundation for a responsible grocery model that's unique to B.C. We don't have to do it like Alberta. We're not going to do it like Washington State. We'll do it the way British Columbians do it, and it'll be better than all of the rest put together.
Now, liquor and grocery: what are the priorities here? To respond to consumer demand for convenience. This government heard from consumers, tens of thousands of them, and we're responding to them. We're protecting government revenue. We're not pretending that somehow government isn't involved in the collection of revenue from this particular product, and we're not going to see that diminish in any way, shape or form.
The implementation is going to be phased in. As my colleagues on the opposition side have already raised, there may be some issues around sudden change to existing merchants, entrepreneurs. Some people may have concerns about the viability of their licence when change comes. But the reality is that we're always evolving. Change isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it needs to be done responsibly.
This is going to be phased in incrementally. Nothing is changing overnight. We're not going to see any earth-shattering differences on Monday morning. It's going to be incremental, it's going to be responsible, and it's going to serve the consumers.
Most important — and this cannot be emphasized enough — the grocery model that this government will be implementing will address the health and safety concerns. It will enhance the processes that keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. This will be done in the most socially responsible manner that is available.
As I already mentioned, we're going to be promoting the B.C. industry. I want the opportunity to be able to go local and support a B.C. winery. I don't order a bottle of wine if it's not from B.C. I want to be able to consume craft beer made in British Columbia. I don't drink imports. Well, once in a while. But I want to be able to get behind the craft brewers. I want us to be able to support them, and I want them to know that this government appreciates the jobs that they create, appreciates their contribution to the economy, to tourism and to creating a vibrant social scene throughout British Columbia.
Among other things, to enhance the social responsibility aspect of this particular legislation, this government will be legislating broader application for Serving It Right programs. We'll be legislating authority to mandate educational materials regarding responsible consumption and establish the ability to offer happy hours with minimum drink prices. So it's not going to be a fire sale. We're going to do this right. We're not going to do it in a manner where we have to backtrack and unring that bell. We're going to get it right the first time.
As I say, we're going to be selling beer, wine and spirits in grocery stores in a very socially responsible manner that is approachable, convenient and appreciated by consumers. They're the ones that asked for it, and our job as government is to respond to consumer demand.
In terms of public education, the government will be expanding this regarding health and safety risks related to alcohol use, with a particular emphasis on the effects of binge drinking by youth and post-secondary students. It's something that we can never emphasize enough and never be too cautious about. We will be anteing up our contribution to that public relation front.
We'll be identifying all of the government's alcohol-related education initiatives to ensure they're focused and as effective as possible; making information about Canada's low-risk drinking guidelines available to consumers in licenced establishments; collaborating between government, public health officials, industry and other groups to develop effective, meaningful social responsibility; education campaigns to display in licensed establishments, liquor stores, advertising and public service campaigns. Above all else, we'll be working with other provinces and territories to encourage the federal government to put warning labels on all liquor products.
Enforcement and compliance is absolutely paramount as we introduce this change, as we introduce a new era in how beer, wine and spirits are made available in this particular province. Among other things, we'll be encouraging police to use the enforcement rules of ticket-
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ing and fines more frequently for people under 19 years of age who are caught possessing liquor or using false identification, being in restricted premises and selling liquor. Up until now we basically focused solely on the proprietor, as we well should, but people under 19 years old have a role in being responsible as well. With this legislation, we'll be attending to that.
We'll also be reviewing the enforcement penalties of the liquor control and licensing branch and other jurisdictions to see that B.C.'s penalty levels are appropriate. Everything needs review from time to time. It's our responsibility to make sure that we're doing it right, and if we have to address some of those levels, then that's exactly what we'll do.
We'll be considering how different types of penalties…. For instance, a suspension or a monetary penalty. How does that impact a licensee? How does that impact staff?
I mean, these are some of the things that are of concern to entrepreneurs as we move forward with these changes. We want stability in the marketplace, but we also want a marketplace that has the capacity to grow and to respond to changing times and respond to consumers.
I could talk about this for quite a while, but I think what I'd rather do for a moment or two is just reiterate what some other people are saying about this.
From Debbie Woodward of Privato Vineyard: "Even having a presence at a farmers market would be fun. What a novel concept: being able to have a glass of wine or to buy a bottle of wine at a farmers market."
I mean, this is not something that is unfathomable. It's basically catching up with what other jurisdictions are doing, in a responsible manner. Particularly, in an area where I come from — agricultural based — farmers markets are a big part of the social landscape, recreational leisure landscape. This might be a way to enhance them.
From Bobbe Lyall of Harper's Trail Estate Winery: "To be able to do a sampling and show people what we've made locally…. I think it would really fit in nicely. Why shouldn't we be able to show off? We make wine and craft beer as good or better than any other jurisdiction on the planet, and we should be bragging about it. We should be using that to enhance tourism and to promote local economies."
From the Prince George Farmers Market Association, this is Yvonna Breed. She says: "I think selling local wine at farmers markets is a great idea. I personally know people who are interested in developing specialized products like that up here. If you think about it, we can make all kinds of fruit wine. We can grow raspberries, strawberries, huckleberries, all sorts of things, so there could be farms that actually grow the products and maybe even supply a processor."
This is so innovative. It's so evolutionary. It's moving the industry to an area, to a place, where it naturally should be going.
As a 35-year member of the Royal Canadian Legion, I'll sign off here with what their response was to the liquor review. This comes from Angus Stanfield, president of the Royal Canadian Legion B.C.-Yukon Command. "We're thrilled to hear government is making positive changes in liquor regulations impacting the Royal Canadian Legion and other membership clubs. We are looking forward to it. These changes will help us strengthen our charitable giving for veterans, youth, seniors and communities we serve."
This legislation covers so many areas. It's addressing so many current shortfalls in the existing legislation. It is moderate. It is responsible. It strikes a balance. It's good for business, it's good for consumers, and it's great for British Columbia. I'm very happy to be part of a government that is introducing this legislation. Absolutely, I'll be cheering the night that we vote to pass this into legislation.
M. Elmore: I seek leave to make an introduction.
Introductions by Members
M. Elmore: I'd like to welcome to the Legislature today Elizabeth Zarpa, who is with the law program at the University of Victoria, as well as Troy Sebastian, member of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres. They're here participating in an international day of action, a march, calling for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
I heard a very moving testimony from Elizabeth Zarpa, who was friends with the woman who was brutally killed, Loretta Saunders, an honour student studying missing and murdered indigenous women at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
They are joining the call into a national inquiry for more than 800 indigenous women who have gone missing or have been murdered throughout the past 30 years. It was a very powerful gathering, very moving. It touched my heart and, I think, the hearts of British Columbians and Canadians.
I join them in supporting their call for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. I ask everybody to extend their welcome and welcome them here to the grounds of the Legislature.
A. Weaver: To begin, I'd like to thank the member from Chilliwack for highlighting so many of the outstanding microbreweries that have spawned in the capital regional district. In fact, there's a craft beer revolution that started in greater Victoria that's spread throughout
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I have the pleasure to actually have a very good friend who wrote the book on the craft beer revolution, called precisely that. His name is Joe Wiebe, and he's a constituent in the Victoria region here locally.
The Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act is the initial piece of legislation that will bring some needed changes to the distribution of alcohol in our region, in our province. Building on the legislative changes that have occurred over the past decade, the government has recognized that a detailed examination on how liquor is managed in this province is overdue and has stated a number of reforms they intend to bring forward. The legislation before us today takes a first step in instituting some of these changes.
Guiding these proposed reforms was a substantial public consultation that allowed British Columbians to contribute to the report that outlined how B.C. should reform its laws around the sale and distribution of alcohol. This sort of public outreach to determine the direction of public policy helps ensure that a social licence is earned and that trust is created between a government and its citizens. I want to applaud the government's efforts and, in particular, the member for Richmond-Steveston, who went forward with this consultation process to establish the social licence before instituting or proceeding to bring this legislation forward to us today.
The legislation before us will allow for certain reforms that I believe warrant recognition. I'm pleased to see that by this summer small vendors will be able to sell alcohol at farmers markets. As I understand, these vendors will also be able to provide samples to interested customers. This is a great initiative that promotes small business in the microbrewery and wine industries of our province.
The B.C. Craft Brewers Guild reports that the sale of craft beer in B.C. has doubled in just the past four years, going from 9 percent of all B.C. sales of beer in 2009 to 19 percent in 2013, while the Liquor Distribution Branch reports sales by microbrewers shooting up by 38 percent. This is not without substantial economic impact. The Conference Board of Canada reported late last year that for every dollar Canadians spend on beer, $1.12 is generated for the Canadian economy.
More generally, according to the organization called Conversations for Responsible Economic Development, CRED — this is my favourite statistic — within Canada, more people work in the beer economy than in the oil sands economy. I reiterate that for the record. More people work in the beer economy than in the oil sands economy in Canada — 163,200 jobs in the beer economy; 112,000 direct jobs in the oil sands economy. These are numbers that we should be proud of. B.C., in particular the capital regional district, has led the way in the craft beer revolution — and the fine wine revolution in the Okanagan — in Canada.
As these changes are rolled out over this year and the next, it's very important that they are implemented in a responsible manner that makes public safety a priority. My comments to this regard will echo those of the previous speakers. The government has implemented significant changes in the last few years that sought to decrease the prevalence of drinking and driving. I hope to see this continue, to take the societal effects of alcohol consumption seriously, even as we introduce some of these necessary changes.
We must also ensure that as these reforms are implemented, we continue to engage the small business communities of this industry. For example, there may be small businesses established under previous legislation that might be affected down the road. Some may be committed to long-term leases in their existing sites. Others may find it difficult to compete if, as is being discussed, grocery stores are allowed to sell beer and wine. As we all know, small business is the engine of the B.C. economy, and steps must be taken to ensure the continued success of this sector.
For the most part, my concerns with the legislation before us and with some of the other proposed reforms are that they may negatively impact small businesses.
Change happens. We all recognize that. Updating liquor laws may require that we alter the established order of things. However, by ensuring we have an open and ongoing conversation with those who will be impacted, we can at least try to mitigate the amount of disruption that these changes cause.
Reforms to liquor store licensing may have a large impact on small businesses. The bill before us starts to lay the groundwork for substantial changes in this area, so we must be particularly vigilant in our approach to dealing with these small businesses.
One of the most substantial reforms around liquor licensing that this government intends to introduce is to allow liquor store licences to be bought and sold freely across our province. This will directly impact on how the industry operates, particularly in light of the cap on the number of liquor licences available.
Based on what has been made public so far, this proposed change is likely to considerably increase the value of these licences. Indeed, with the implementation of this reform, it's conceivable that the buying and selling of liquor licences becomes a market in and of itself, divorced from the local market demand for liquor. This could then result in a situation where, for example, a small retail outlet in, say, Burns Lake sells its licence to a retail outlet in Vancouver.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with licences moving freely across our province, there is an argument to be made here for fairness in our rural communities. As liquor store operators in small communities suddenly have these very profitable licences, they may decide, in fact, to sell their licences to a business in a larger city. This
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could then leave the rural community — in my example it was Burns Lake — with liquor stocks well below what the market demand is, based purely on the profitability of a larger market like Vancouver.
I'm also interested in the potential effects of continuing to cap the number of liquor store licences in the province while simultaneously creating a new market for these licences. This approach may impact the government's flexibility to make necessary corrections in the future. Again, another example — the city of Vancouver is having enormous difficulty issuing new taxi licences because of the lobbying efforts of existing taxi licence holders who want to maintain the status quo and the value of their licences. Conceivably, a similar situation could arise with B.C. liquor stores. This is something that we need to be careful of.
In conclusion, my view is that this legislation contains a number of practical changes to our liquor laws. It's worth noting that the government intends to have an incremental approach to roll out these proposed changes and that the bill in front of us today introduces reforms that are far from the most controversial. Nevertheless, I think the introduction of this bill allows this House to discuss some of the key principles that should baseline any reform, while the bill itself will help to provide new business opportunities for small business owners across the province.
I look forward to more detailed discussion of the specific elements contained within the bill at the next stage of discussions.
C. James: I rise to speak to Bill 15. I think, as many of my colleagues have said and others in this House, that this bill does not represent all of the work that the government has been talking about around liquor control and licensing changes.
I want to take my time to speak a little bit to the planning work — and the work that I worry is missing — that comes forward with Bill 15. There are some, as I said, reasonable approaches when it comes to changes in liquor control. I think all British Columbians, and the minister of state mentioned it earlier, could give you ideas and approaches that they believe don't make sense or have contradictions when it comes to liquor licensing and liquor laws in our province. I certainly am in support of making some commonsense changes.
A specific that has come to me in my constituency is the issue of cooking schools. Some cooking schools are able to allow the patrons who come for a cooking class to bring a bottle of wine with them, to enjoy wine with their meal after they're done cooking. Other establishments have been told that they would require a special occasion licence for wine to be able to be brought in.
I think there are a number of those kinds of contradictions that most British Columbians would look at and say are important to be changed and are important to have consistency on across the province. It certainly shouldn't matter which liquor licensing person you have as to what kind of situation you face in your community.
As I said, I think there are some very sensible approaches that will come forward. But I think the important piece in all of this is that whenever you're looking at changes — and it's not simply to liquor control — in any kind of government law or government regulations, it's critical that you take a look at the consequences, both intended and unintended. I am here to speak to this bill to express my concern that I am not certain that this government has truly looked at the consequences of making changes to liquor control and to liquor licensing.
That raises all kinds of red flags and all kinds of worries, because how can you prepare…? The minister stated when the bill was introduced, and the minister of state spoke today, about the fact that this is simply one piece of a whole series of changes to liquor licensing that will come forward. The minister of state mentioned everything from happy hour to families in pubs and bars, to changes in licensing, to sports and games and access to alcohol in public events.
There's a whole range of changes the government is contemplating. I recognize that not all of those are included in Bill 15, but, as the minister of state said, they are all part of an ongoing package, Bill 15 being the beginning of that discussion. My question would be, then: how do you make changes like Bill 15, which brings forward a couple of changes, without knowing the big picture, without knowing all of the changes you're going to make and without taking a look at the impact of the many different kinds of changes you may bring forward around liquor licensing?
If you take a look at research across the country, the research is very clear that when you make changes to access to alcohol, there are impacts on alcohol consumption. I think that wouldn't be a surprise to most of us. I think that would be a pretty straightforward belief for most people, that if you increase access, if you increase the opportunity, you're also going to increase the challenges that are there.
Now, as I said, that doesn't mean you shouldn't move on changes. It doesn't mean you should move on access. It just means you should make sure, if you're a good government, that you've done the planning to look at what those changes are, that you've made sure you've looked at the proper approach to plan and prepare for those changes.
There was a very interesting study done for addiction services for the Department of Health Promotion and Protection in Nova Scotia. I want to read a couple of quotes from that study because I think it speaks to the kind of importance of planning that I think is there. This study, again, as I said, was commissioned by the government of Nova Scotia for their health department.
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The study says: "Overall alcohol consumption and high-risk drinking has been increasing in Canada in recent years. It's expected that initiatives to increase access to alcohol and stimulate higher levels of overall consumption will contribute to increasing the risks from alcohol, the damage from alcohol and the attendant health, social and law enforcement costs."
Again, I don't think this would be a surprise to most people that you're going to see an increase in challenges as you change the kind of access and ability for access that people have. I think that really, to me, points out the critical need that you make your decisions on the kind of context that is there, that you don't make them in a vacuum, that you don't bring forward one change without looking at the impact and that you make sure you include those impacts.
Another quote from the study that I think, again, is important. It says that decision-making protocols related to alcohol and related to liquor control "do not routinely include health and safety experts at the decision-making table.
"Furthermore, an increase in overall sales is conceptually and erroneously separated from the increase in the rate of alcohol-related problems. In other words, it's falsely assumed in business and retail circles" — and in decision-makers — "that more alcohol can be sold without creating the potential for more alcohol-related problems in a society." That, to me, really says how critical it is that we address the issue and the challenges that will come with making changes to liquor control, such as the changes that are identified in Bill 15.
As I said earlier, there have been a large number of suggestions from government to make changes in legislation, but I haven't heard any discussion from this government, in this bill or in any of the conversations that I've heard from members across the way, that has talked about planning, talked about impact studies, talked about research that might have been done, talked about some of the challenges that are created.
I think all of us know — and we've heard studies from chiefs of police, for example, that have come forward over the last couple of years that have identified the real issues when it comes to addictions in British Columbia — the real costs that are there for government. I mean, this isn't an issue that simply becomes a cost to the person who is struggling with addictions, although that in itself, I would suggest, is reason enough to take on these challenges. In fact, it is a huge cost to government. It's a huge cost to our health care system.
If we don't as a government and as a society address the issues of addictions, then we will see those increased costs in the justice system and in the health care system. If we're taking a look at making changes and if we're taking a look at addressing the issues of alcohol consumption and addressing the issues of more access to alcohol, then I think it's critical that we take a look at what kinds of supports we have in place now in British Columbia.
Let's take a look at the addiction services that the changes in Bill 15 will not address and, in fact, could cause more pressure on. Right now in British Columbia the addiction services supports that are in place are mainly a user-pay system, although it has been recognized for a very long period of time that addiction is a health care issue.
It's not something to do with one's own will. It's not something to do with a good person or a bad person. Addictions impact everybody in all parts of society and all parts of our world and all parts of our families. It is right now seen still as a user-pay, not the approach of: "You have an illness, therefore we will provide, as we do with other illnesses, the support that you need." Because of that, you see many people who have addictions who are struggling to be able to get supports.
We see a huge shortage across this province, a huge shortage of treatment facilities, a huge shortage of supportive recovery houses. We know that there are people who are on waiting lists, and anyone who has worked in the area of the field of addictions knows that if someone comes forward and asks for help, that's the time to be able to put the help and the support in place. That's when you want to make sure that you're providing that support. Yet we don't see that.
Here we are looking at changes in Bill 15 without having done that kind of research, without having looked at those kinds of supports, without having put those in place.
I went back to look at the health care budget. Perhaps if government is bringing forward a piece of legislation that is going to look at increased access to alcohol, increased access…. Perhaps there was an increase in the health care budget when it came to addiction services. Perhaps I just missed it. Perhaps there were dollars in there.
Well, there weren't dollars in that health care budget. In fact, there was no mention in the health care budget for addiction services and addiction supports or an increase in addiction beds. It's a concern that at a time you're looking at making changes, at a time when the government…. I heard the minister of state say this was one of the most important initiatives that the government took on.
Well, if this was an important initiative for the government to take on, I would have expected that that kind of research and those kinds of documents would have been pulled together before the government came forward with Bill 15 or any other future changes when it came to changes in liquor control and liquor licensing.
As well, I haven't heard — and it's, again, a concern — any representation made by other ministries. I certainly would have expected…. The minister of state mentioned consultation, that this was a huge consultation, one of the largest consultations that they've done. They've had
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a number of people go on line and bring forward their recommendations and their ideas.
I certainly approached the Minister of Children and Families to ask whether they had given any input into the issue of changes to liquor licence. I would have expected the Ministry of Health to bring forward their ideas and approaches across government around changes to liquor licensing and health. None of those were listed either. That raises a huge red flag to me that there aren't those kinds of studies being done.
I mentioned the research project brought forward by the Nova Scotia government. To me, that's the kind of approach that should have been taken. I would have expected this government to bring forward research to show the kinds of issues that they might need to look at. A quote from that report says that the body of research has shown that "an increase in alcohol sales is strongly linked with an increase in drinking-related damage," shown by three international projects affiliated with the World Health Organization. Again it's pointing out the need for the studies.
I'm not suggesting that some of these changes may not make sense, not suggesting that there aren't some sensible approaches. But again, as we see often with this government, I see little advanced planning done and a lot of piecemeal approach, a lot of: "Let's bring forward this one idea, because we think it looks terrific. We think it looks great. So we'll bring it forward, and then we'll deal with the outcome afterwards."
Well, when it comes to liquor control and licensing, when it comes to addictions, dealing with the outcomes afterwards can be a huge problem and can cause huge damages to individuals, to families and to society — and certainly to the bottom line for government.
That same study says that it's clear that "alcohol management has real consequences" and "many problems can be reduced or partially avoided through careful planning and a precautionary approach." I think that says it all — that if, in fact, proper work was done and proper planning was done, we could actually address many of these challenges.
I think about a province that actually would recognize addictions as a health care issue and would put in place the supports needed, in both rural and urban communities; would put in place affordable recovery centres; would put in place licensed recovery centres that had qualified staff and the kind of support and programs that need to be there, short term and long term, for people who are struggling with addictions. That, in fact, would be a savings for us, as a society, and for government, in making these changes.
A comprehensive approach is what I was looking for. I'm disappointed, in taking a look at Bill 15 as the start of many changes that are going to occur around liquor licensing, that there isn't a comprehensive approach here, that there aren't suggestions around changes that could be made when it comes to support for addictions services, that there aren't changes that could be recommended when it comes to support for children and families.
I mean, it will be a huge change if we see, in the next bill that comes forward around liquor control and liquor licensing changes, that children and families are able to go into pubs and into bars. That's going to have an impact. There are many people who talk about the European model and the strength of the European model. I would agree. I've spent time in Europe. I think there's a much more healthy approach to the issue of liquor. But we're not Europe.
We are a very different society, and it's not some change that can be made and expect that you're going to see the same kinds of impacts that you see there. You need to plan ahead. You need to make sure that the studies are being put in place. Most importantly, you need to make sure those services and supports are put in place. So lots of work to do.
As we get into the specifics and into third reading on this bill, I know that there'll be more opportunity to talk about whether any impact studies were issued from the Ministry of Children and Families or the Ministry of Health, for example; whether the government has truly looked at any changes that were suggested from not-for-profits or municipalities around concerns that come forward; whether any additional resources are going to be put in place for addiction supports that would be critical.
I am an eternal optimist. I will always hope the government will do the right thing. As we see these changes and further changes come forward, perhaps they'll recognize the importance of dealing with addictions. You can't address liquor licensing and access to liquor without looking at the kinds of supports that need to be in place for people struggling with addictions.
I'll turn over the floor to the next speaker.
S. Hammell: I am also pleased to rise to speak on Bill 15, the Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act. As many speakers before me have said, I agree with the notion that many of our liquor control and licensing options in this province harken back to another age. We certainly do need reform in many, many ways in this province, and it is good to know that some of these changes are being addressed.
Some of the changes are very, very important to a civilized and reasonable society when it comes to alcohol. The notion that we are now allowed to have breweries and wineries and distilleries sell and serve all types of liquor just makes sense. I mean, there was an age when men and women had to go into different parts of a beer parlour, you couldn't pick up a drink and move it from one table to another, and all kinds of just unreasonable restrictions were placed on the normal, reasonable and rational consumption of alcohol.
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There's lots in this bill that does set the stage, I think, for reforms that come in the future. But being able to sell at a farmers market, allowing local craft breweries and local wineries to go to a farmers market and sell their ware, as it might be said, just seems reasonable and civilized. There's lots in this bill that, I think, appears to be setting the stage for something that is yet to come. I think that has been foreshadowed in much of the information that the members opposite have been putting in front of us.
There is the discussion around this bill being largely regulatory and setting the stage for other things that are yet to come. Obviously, it provides for the conversion of agency store licences and duty-free store licences now established to change to licences under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. As I've said, it allows breweries and wineries to sell all types of liquor.
It allows private liquor stores to keep liquor off site. It seems to me absurd that they could not do that at this time. It allows that if a liquor licence is transferred, the transferee may use the licence while they are being checked in terms of criminal record and conflict of interest and any other thing that might be due diligence in terms of the government's actions.
There is part of this that I do want to flag and that I find worrisome. I want to put this in the context of my community. There's a family business in my community that has come to me and raised significant concerns around the issue of moving to sales in grocery stores. I think their voice needs to be heard in this chamber, and I'm very pleased to raise it.
In my community this small business has been in business for decades. They are one of the many original neighbourhood pubs that were created in the '70s. That pub has been passed from father to the two sons, and they have built a very strong little business in one little corner of the community. They have served that local community and are an example of the original concept of the neighbourhood pub.
During their development as a neighbourhood pub, they then added the private liquor store that was attached to the pub, and they have catered to the local community. They are in a neighbourhood, a community, that walks to the pub, that uses that pub as a place for people to meet and greet, and their business has been deeply, deeply rooted in that neighbourhood for a number of years.
This family is very, very worried about the move to selling liquor in the grocery stores. They absolutely do not see where that cannot have an impact on their business. They are concerned that their local business, rooted in the neighbourhood, will take a very heavy blow. I think their concern needs to be recognized and needs to be addressed.
I have to say that I'm equally as concerned as they are. I see, as the story is being presented to us and the future being foreshadowed, that we are going to be moving from small community businesses to where liquor is sold in big corporate food chains. I'm not sure if that is in the best interest of community or if it is, certainly, in the best interest of this small business in my community.
A store within a store in a major grocery chain will, I think, make winners out of a big corporate chain versus a local community. In many ways, we've heard the comments from the members around us that this is only the free market moving through our system. But what we are going to see is winners and losers as a direct consequence of rules and regulations made by mere mortals — the government — and not the invisible hand of some moving system that is going to guide the market in strange and mysterious ways.
What is happening here is government is making change, and change will impact on some of the members of our community. I just don't think it's a win for the local small community when they're put up against a major grocery chain.
When government makes changes, as other members have said before me, whether in a ferry system or a liquor system, there are consequences to people and to small business. Eighty percent of employment in this provinces is created by small business, and when the mountain moves, it shakes hardest those who are small. Like my constituents, this family: the father and two sons are the ones that will feel the consequence of this change.
I'm delighted and share the enthusiasm of modernizing in many ways our liquor system, that we can be more at ease with the fact that we have alcohol as part of our world and that we need to learn to use it judiciously and with wisdom. But I also do think that when we are building, we are making winners and losers. We need to be very, very careful that, at all costs, our community and our small businesses are first in line to be considered.
With that, I will take my seat.
Deputy Speaker: I thank the member, and seeing no further speakers, I'll call on the Attorney General to close debate.
Hon. S. Anton: I appreciate the comments from the members opposite, from the members on this side of the House. It is indeed an interesting time in the history of liquor legislation in British Columbia. It's a very comprehensive review, and this is the first part of the implementation of that review.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of Bill 15.
Hon. S. Anton: I move that Bill 15 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House to be considered at the next sitting after today.
[ Page 2524 ]
Bill 15, Liquor Control and Licensing Amendment Act, 2014, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. T. Stone: I would like to now call committee stage for Bill 14, intituled Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2014.
Committee of the Whole House
BILL 14 — JUSTICE STATUTES
AMENDMENT ACT, 2014
The House in Committee of the Whole (Section B) on Bill 14; D. Horne in the chair.
The committee met at 4:19 p.m.
On section 1.
The Chair: If you could just introduce your staff, and then we can start on section 1.
Hon. S. Anton: Staff supporting me today are Nancy Carter, Andrea Buzbuzbian and outside, coming in and out, Darrell Hrenyk, Tyler Nyvall, Janet Donald, Jeremy Wood, Kathy Kirby and Katherine Dann.
I'd like to suggest if we might change the order, and I think I have agreement from the other side of the House that we will do these…. Some of the different pieces of the act relate to each other, but they're not necessarily in the same order that the act is written in.
So sections 1 to 9, then 29, then 30 to 36, 43 and 49 should go in that order.
The Chair: All right — with agreement.
L. Krog: With respect to section 1, initially if the Attorney General could explain where we are at in terms of the relationship between the Adult Guardianship Act, Adult Guardianship and Planning Statutes Amendment Act and this proposal in section 1.
Hon. S. Anton: The Adult Guardianship and Planning Statutes Amendment Act is being brought in, in a three-phased approach. The first phase was the incapacity planning stage, which came in September 2011. This current stage, the one that we're dealing with in the statutes here, deals with statutory guardianship. The full implementation of the act will come in sometime in the future when it can be properly resourced.
In the meantime, to bring in the statutory guardianship provisions of this act, it needs to continue to work with the old Patients Property Act. It's a rather technical set of amendments, and it goes back and forth a little bit, which I will be explaining along the way. But it is because of that phased approach that it has the references back to the Patients Property Act while the statutory guardianship provisions are being brought in.
L. Krog: With respect to section 1 before us now, as I understand it, this is a reform in the sense that health authority designates now have to consult with the Public Guardian and Trustee — that's sort of basic — but then notify the adult, if contact information is known, and the adult's spouse or a near relative of the adult of the intention to issue the certificate and the reasons for issuing it.
I'm wondering. Is there any provision now for notice, apart from notice to the adult?
Hon. S. Anton: I believe the question was whether or not there is any legislative requirement for notice currently, and the answer to that is no. That is the goal of the sections, which is to add formal notice requirements.
L. Krog: I appreciate the answer. The question then becomes, obviously…. The language quite specifically is "notified the adult and, if contact information is known to the health authority designate…." I'm wondering what circumstance would be contemplated. If you didn't know how to contact the adult, why would you be in a position to be issuing a certificate? Is this on the assumption they are missing and lost? Do you understand what I'm saying?
The way I read it, unless has first "notified the adult and, if contact information is known to the health authority…the adult's spouse or a near relative…." What sorts of steps, if any, are expected to be taken by the health authority designate before they can determine whether or not information is known?
Hon. S. Anton: This, of course, is a question of circumstances at the time. Sometimes it's obvious who a spouse or a near relative is. Sometimes it's not. The language in this is consistent in the notice requirements in the current act as relating to the notice that the Public Guardian and Trustee has to give. It's taking those same provisions and putting them here to the health authority designate.
L. Krog: My question quite specifically is if the contact information is known, I'm wondering: does this imply or is there any other statutory provision that requires some efforts to determine that information?
[R. Chouhan in the chair.]
Hon. S. Anton: The issue is what kinds of efforts need
[ Page 2525 ]
to be made. There are no further requirements in the legislation determining what kinds of efforts would need to be made. I think a health authority would simply be applying its own good judgment in terms of looking for people, but, as I said, there is no specific requirement or direction apart from this.
L. Krog: I think most of us who have any familiarity with the process and how someone is declared incapable, how a certificate of incapability is issued and the impact of that, have come across, in legal work and/or constituency work, the numbers of people who become upset because suddenly a relative that they know or haven't had much contact with, perhaps, is suddenly not in their home anymore. They're in a facility. There's a for-sale sign up, etc.
All of these things happen without them receiving any notice. I appreciate that there are practical difficulties with respect to that notice being given and how it's to be given, so any notice made, in the legal sense — and this is now a section that will require legal, I will call it, notification; in other words, the statutory requirement that notice be given — is a huge improvement.
I'm delighted to see that, as will our seniors advocate and others. At the same time, if it's to have any meaning and if it's to have any impact, it seems to me that notifying the adult and, "if contact information is known to the health authority designate, the adult's spouse or a near relative…." Is that an e-mail? Is that a telephone call? Is that a certified letter through Canada Post? I think they still have those. Is that a couriered notice? What is that?
Preceding that step is the question that I'm trying to focus on and which the Attorney General, I think, has told me is up to the judgment of the health authority designate. That's my concern: if contact information is known.
There's no requirement statutorily to obtain that contact information. There's no section that says that the health authority designate must, before issuing a certificate of incapability, attempt, by hiring a private detective or perusing a list of phone numbers or something….
If that's the case, is there some intention in regulation to follow from this that's in the contemplation of the ministry? Is there some intention that in regulation it will be somewhat more specific in terms, I would hope, of some requirement that steps be taken to obtain that contact information?
You often have…. Particularly elderly people living on their own become somewhat reclusive as a result of age and other disability, so a section that says you have to notify if it's known may, in fact, be an entirely meaningless section without the corresponding requirement that some effort be made to determine if there is a spouse or a near relative.
The question is, fairly simply, after my long bit of verbiage here: is there any suggestion that there will be regulation that will place some onus on the health authority designate to attempt to obtain that contact information?
Is it something that's intended to be kept on file? Is there some record going to be kept of it? Is it part of health care records?
Is there something along those lines that might provide some comfort to people that this section is not just, on the face of it, good reform; it is, in fact, good, practical reform and will have a real impact?
Hon. S. Anton: Some of these sections and the structure of these certificates were in place when the original act came into place. This section 3.1 interacts with the original section 3 of the act, which describes a number of things that the health authority needs to do in order to decide that a certificate of incompatibility might be appropriate. Those are listed in the current section 3.
I'll just remind the member opposite that part of the reason for the extra provisions that we're putting in right now is because the Ombudsperson did properly, and I think wisely, require that there be additional notice requirements for the adult themself and for members of the adult's family.
There do, under the original section 3, need to be somewhat detailed investigations about the adult before the certificate of incompatibility could be issued. During the course of those investigations, if there were near family members — a spouse or a near relative — they would become apparent in most circumstances in those cases, certainly if they were involved in the adult's life.
L. Krog: I thought I heard the minister say, "certificate of incompatibility," and I thought that's something I wouldn't want to be in the business of issuing, small joke aside.
The minister's answer, as I understand it, is that the assumption is that as a result of doing the investigation in order to determine whether or not a certificate of incapability should be issued, you're presumably going to stumble across the family address book, or there's a person living in the household who's presumed to be a spouse, etc., but that apart from that investigation, there is no legal requirement to actually attempt to obtain that contact information.
Hon. S. Anton: I think the "incompatibility" is speaking well at this hour of the day. The incapability certificate is what we're talking about here.
I think the answer to the question is no. The provisions are as laid out in section 3 and 3.1. There are no additional requirements imposed upon the health authority in terms of finding relatives.
L. Krog: Notwithstanding the way the legislation is
[ Page 2526 ]
drafted, I'm wondering if the minister considers whether or not this could in fact be covered by regulation. Is it necessary to have a section saying quite specifically: "You have to take steps to secure contact information"? In other words, can you, pursuant to the general provisions of the statute, by regulation say to the health authority designate: "Oh, by the way, in addition to giving notice, you have to have taken some steps to try and locate the adult spouse or near relative?"
Hon. S. Anton: The regulation-making authority deals with the form of the notice, not efforts to find family members. I'm told by staff that the consultation with the health authority is still ongoing. I am prepared to have that issue raised with the health authorities and provide information to the member in further response to the question as to what their best practices are.
L. Krog: Not that I'm looking for an ironclad guarantee, of course, but I'm just wondering if the people who would be in a position to issue the certificate of incapability belong to a professional association or body which could in fact change its rules a great deal more simply than we change legislation or regulation to effect the same requirement that I'm suggesting.
In other words, it would be part of your professional responsibility before you issued a certificate of incapability that efforts be made to determine that contact information — which, with great respect, I would submit would carry out the intention of the Ombudsperson's report and protect the interest that the public generally has in this when they see certificates issued against people, in a sense, that they think they should have at least received notice of.
Hon. S. Anton: I think I have said all that there is to be said on this. The inquiries are made under section 3 as to the capability of the person, and if there are spouses or relatives, they will be notified, and we will consult with the health authority as to their best practices in finding those people.
L. Krog: The next question, then, is coming back to a point I made earlier. In terms of the notification of the adult or the adult's spouse or near relative, what sort of notification is anticipated?
Hon. S. Anton: That will be done by regulation under subsection 63(2)(o.1), which will deal with the contents of the notice.
L. Krog: The minister talks about the content of the notice. Is the notice a written notice, or does a telephone call suffice, or an e-mail or some other form? In other words, is there a specific requirement as to what constitutes notification?
Hon. S. Anton: The development of that notice, the service and the content of notice, is still outstanding. That work will be done, in consultation with health authorities and other stakeholders, in the development of the regulation. Normally, it would be a written notice, but I don't want to close all those doors, because there may be some circumstances where it's not a written notice.
L. Krog: I think the minister just told me she wants to let the cow loose in the pasture, but we're not sure whether we're going to tether it or not or where it's going to wander.
My question, then, is…. The presumption, from the minister's response, is that it's likely to be a written notice. Then in section (3.1)(c) it talks about "a reasonable opportunity to respond." What contemplation is given to that regulation? I am somewhat curious why at this stage, given my limited knowledge of the history of these statutes and how long it's taken to get us to this stage, we're not in a position to satisfy ourselves now as to what that notice is going to look like and what form it will take.
In addition, can the minister indicate what is going to be deemed to be "a reasonable opportunity to respond"? I really don't think it's necessary to leave it as "reasonable," which will essentially force courts to bring consideration to this issue, when in fact many other provisions set a specific amount of time in order to respond. I'm wondering what the thinking is behind it — and the two steps, if you will. Why don't we have regulation or drafts or something that the minister can be a little firmer about? Secondly, what's anticipated as "a reasonable opportunity"?
Hon. S. Anton: There does need to be some thinking going into what the notice would look like and the opportunity to respond, remembering that sometimes…. I think the member opposite referred to his Uncle George. Sometimes Uncle George is in a tough situation, in a vulnerable situation. A family member is abusing his financial assets. He may be in an abusive relationship.
There are many benign circumstances where the person has simply become incapable, but there are situations where the person is actually in a vulnerable situation. It's not as straightforward as just saying: "We were going to go hand them a notice." There may be more of an urgent nature to it than that. That's why there needs to be more development in terms of what the notice would look like, what the requirements of service are, what the exceptions to that might be and what the reasonable opportunity to respond would be.
L. Krog: But in subsection (3.2) it deals with the possibility where "notification need not be given to the adult, to another person referred to in that
subsection, or to either the adult or another person referred to in that
[ Page 2527 ]
subsection, if the health authority designate has reason to believe that notification may result" in serious harm or significant damage to the adult's property.
I'm wondering. Why didn't we simply include a section that says there "or in a circumstance"? I think it's almost covered by the language in any event: "or loss to the adult's property." I think that sort of covers off what the Attorney General has just stated, if I'm not incorrect. That, presumably, takes into account the situation — we'll go back to Uncle George here — where Uncle George's property is being pilfered by his criminally minded nephew. Surely that section covers that off.
I come back to my point. In the normal situation, where there isn't serious physical or mental harm to the adult in giving notification or significant damage or loss to the adult's property — by delay, presumably — then what are we thinking of in terms of a reasonable opportunity?
Hon. S. Anton: Subsection (3.2) does indeed set out the emergency exceptions. In other words, in (3.2) there is no notice at all. However, in (3.1) there still may be quite a variety of circumstances where people fall into the certificate of incapability section in (3.1).
It's not the time right now to try and define who all those people might be and what all the different sets of circumstances might be. That will come within the development of the regulation itself, as to the ability to respond, the capability of the adult, the various, many, many different kinds of circumstances that may arise. Those will come out in the development of the regulations.
L. Krog: Referring on to sub (d), it talks about, "by repealing subsection (7) and substituting the following: (7) This section does not apply if the adult has a committee, appointed under the Patients Property Act, responsible for managing the adult's affairs," and the previous section talks about a statutory property guardian.
I wonder if the minister can just explain what that means. When it says that this section does not apply, does that mean that it's not necessary to file notice? How do these sections work together? I guess that's what I'm saying. I don't have the brilliance or the time to get the old statutes side by side and examine them carefully.
Hon. S. Anton: This is one of the sections which accommodates the phased approach that I described earlier. Because some pieces of the Patients Property Act are remaining in play and not the entire Adult Guardianship Act, this refers back properly to the Patients Property Act and the appointment of a committee under the Patients Property Act.
L. Krog: Just so I can understand, if you've got a committeeship in place, then none of this is going to apply. Am I putting it too simply?
Hon. S. Anton: That's correct.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
L. Krog: Just to be clear, I assume that for section 2 a similar explanation applies as the Attorney General just gave with respect to the latter part of section 1. Is that fair?
Hon. S. Anton: The previous section was leaving back in the reference to the Patients Property Act. This section is bringing it back out again. So this section can be brought into force once the whole act has been implemented.
L. Krog: I knew this was complex. I just wanted to see the Attorney General answer the question.
Just to be clear, these sections, the proclamation dates, are in fact the most crucial part of all of these sections — is that fair to say? — because we're trying to weave in together these statutes.
Hon. S. Anton: That would be correct. By way of a compliment to my staff, the member for Nanaimo will be glad to know that my staff, when we were going through this, found these sections particularly interesting in the way that they go in and out.
Section 2 approved.
On section 3.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General could simply explain the effect of section 3.
Hon. S. Anton: The general tenor of these amendments, of course, is to make a more robust notice process, and this simply does add to the notice itself — in other words, saying what the ability of the Public Guardian and Trustee is.
Section 3 approved.
On section 4.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General could simply explain the effect of this section and why it's required that "the health authority designate" be now substituted to read "the body that designated the health authority designate who issued the certificate of incapability," and
[ Page 2528 ]
if the Attorney General can explain who the body is going to be and how that works.
Hon. S. Anton: The health authority designate is a person, and of course, it's always quite possible that that person may no longer be in their position when it comes time for a reassessment. This responsibility now goes back to the body that designated that person rather than the person themselves.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General could simply explain: what's the body? What organization? Who is the body? Not that I'm trying to mimic some Newfoundland accent here.
Hon. S. Anton: Without limiting who those bodies might be…. First of all, they will be designated by regulation. An example might be Vancouver Coastal Health, but I don't want to limit it just only in the health authorities, because there may be other bodies designated as well.
L. Krog: I'm not asking the Attorney General to limit herself. I'm just trying to understand.
So it might be a health authority. What other bodies would be contemplated that would be in a position to do this?
Hon. S. Anton: As I said, it is by regulation. The most obvious contenders to be this body that designated the health authority designate would be the health authorities as we currently know them. But it is possible that there may be others as well.
Section 4 approved.
On section 5.
L. Krog: I gather this is, again, one of those weaving-in sections — just to understand it — and this is to take into account that if you're dealing with someone who has had a committee appointed under the Patients Property Act and we're reviewing a certificate of incapability, then they would be a party to any proceeding as would the adult's personal guardian under the new legislation, so to speak. Or how does this section actually work?
Hon. S. Anton: In subsection (2) the parties to a review of the determination of incapability are the adult themselves; again, the notice would go to the body that designated the health authority designate; and then, in reference back to the Patients Property Act, the committee.
Section 5 approved.
On section 6.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General could confirm for me what I think is obvious, blending these sections in that "a person appointed, under the Patients Property Act, as committee…" and then substituting "the adult's personal guardian."
Again, this is one of those sections that'll be proclaimed at a different time to take into account the definitions of what amount to, I think, from a legal perspective, the same sort of person, if you will — the same position, the same authority.
Hon. S. Anton: Yes, that's correct. This is the section that would come back into play were the whole act to be brought into force.
Section 6 approved.
On section 7.
L. Krog: Again trying to understand the effect of this section. If the Attorney General could just confirm who is a statutory property guardian. How would that person be appointed, given that the section contemplates that the committee, if appointed under the Patients Property Act, ends the statutory property guardianship?
How is that going to work together? I'm just not sure in terms of timing and proclamation. I'm just trying to get the terms straight and understand which act we're working under.
Hon. S. Anton: . The purpose of these changes in sub (3) — but not (d); I'll come back to (d) in a moment — and sub (4) and sub (5) is to use language that works throughout the statutes, whether it's in the phased approach or whether it's when the whole act comes into play.
Subsection (3)(d), however, is a reference to the Patients Property Act and is a piece of the phased approach, which, when we go on to the new sub (d) under section 8, is the flip back of that phased approach.
Sections 7 and 8 approved.
On section 9.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General can just confirm what I think is fairly obvious from this section, notwithstanding its length. It relates to the provision of regulatory powers. Again, this is the regulatory section that allows for health care providers to be appointed health authority designates.
[ Page 2529 ]
Presumably this would give the ability of the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to pass a regulation saying that the Island Health authority can, in fact, appoint a health authority designate. Is that correct?
Hon. S. Anton: The (a.1) permits a health authority, Vancouver Coastal, to make a bylaw designating one of their employees to be able to make the designation. So you could appoint, for example, the CEO to be the employee able to make the designation of a health authority designate.
Section 9 approved.
Hon. S. Anton: If I may, Chair, I'd like to recommend that we stand down sections 10 to 28 and that we move on to section 29.
Sections 10 to 28 inclusive stood down.
Section 29 approved.
On section 30.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General could simply explain what change this represents and why it's necessary.
Hon. S. Anton: Section 30 — we've now moved into the Patients Property Act, as the member opposite will know. What this section is doing is amending the definition of "committee" to include the statutory property guardian under the Adult Guardianship Act and the definition of "patient" to include the person who was incapable of managing their affairs who was a patient under the Patients Property Act and also a person who now has a statutory property guardian under the Adult Guardianship Act.
Section 30 approved.
On section 31.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General can just explain the effect of this section. As I understand it from the note, it simply extends the rights to reassessment. In other words, it's giving an opportunity that wouldn't otherwise exist, if that's correct, for a reassessment under the Adult Guardianship Act "to persons who are patients because they were certified as incapable by the director of a mental health facility" and confirms that "patients having statutory property guardianship under the Adult Guardianship Act" have the same rights of assessment.
In other words, this represents an extension of the law, I take it. Or is this simply one of those sections that's clarifying it to make sure that the rights you would have enjoyed under the old legislation are extended to you under the new legislation?
Hon. S. Anton: This is a new section in the Patients Property Act which applies the rights to reassessment and court review of a finding of incapability contained in the Adult Guardianship Act to an adult who became a patient prior to the new statutory guardianship regime coming into force under the Patients Property Act.
In other words, some of the new provisions being added in the Adult Guardianship Act will apply to someone who was formerly a patient — or who is currently a patient; I'm using that old designation — under the Patients Property Act.
Section 31 approved.
On section 32.
L. Krog: This says: "This section applies only to patients as defined in paragraph (b) of the definition of 'patient'." The explanatory note says it "clarifies that hearings under the act to determine whether a person continues to be incapable apply only to patients who were declared, by the court under the act, to be incapable." In other words, you're not entitled to a hearing if you were declared incapable other than by a court?
If the Attorney General can explain this. I think I may be missing something here.
Hon. S. Anton: The Patients Property Act contains provisions for a court-ordered guardianship which remain in force, and the clarification under section 32, the amendment to section 4, clarifies that this particular section only applies to that group of people.
L. Krog: Just so I'm clear, the only way you get declared incapable now is by court order under the Patients Property Act. Is that what the Attorney General is saying?
Therefore, we're just clarifying the reassessment — that the hearings to determine, by the court, to be incapable…. That the act to determine whether it applies only to patients who were declared under the Patients Property Act…. How does this work? I'm just trying to understand. That's all.
Hon. S. Anton: There is still a court-ordered guardianship, and the review of the court-ordered guardianship is in the court. What this is making clear is that if the order is made by the court, the review has to be made by the court, as opposed to the new revisions in the Adult Guardianship Act, where the review is elsewhere other than a courtroom.
[ Page 2530 ]
Sections 32 to 36 inclusive approved.
Hon. S. Anton: I'm just going to add one qualification to my last answer. The review is also under the Adult Guardianship Act. There is a further provision for review into a courtroom beyond that, but generally, that would be a secondary level of review.
Chair, if I might, I would like to now request that we stand down sections 37 to 42 and carry on with section 43.
Sections 37 to 42 inclusive stood down.
Section 43 approved.
Hon. S. Anton: Chair, if we might go then to section 49 and stand down sections 44 to 48.
Sections 44 to 48 inclusive stood down.
On section 49.
L. Krog: I'm just wondering. What was the rationale behind extending the period to 120 days?
Hon. S. Anton: This section, of course, relates to protection of assets. The longer time set out in 19(4)(b), the 120 days, is at the request of the Public Guardian and Trustee, given that they have proposed that 90 days is not always sufficient to guarantee that the assets are properly protected and to get the other required orders in place.
Section 49 approved.
L. Krog: I'm noting the hour, and I'm looking at the numbers of sections left. This is a consideration of the staff that are required to attend.
It strikes me today that if the intention is to move on to section 10 on the family law subsections and if the Attorney General wishes to continue through the act in order, it might be worthwhile letting the folks responsible for the Wills, Estates and Secession Act go or, alternatively, the police folks go, or somebody. I really don't want to keep staff….
I'm in the Attorney General's hands, I guess is what I'm saying.
Hon. S. Anton: It does somewhat depend on the questions, but there is quite a lot of material in the Family Law Act. I don't know if the member for Nanaimo is suggesting we just do the Family Law Act and then excuse other staff. It's really more in his hands than mine, because I don't know how many questions he may have.
L. Krog: There are a number of sections, but I don't think they're that difficult. I'm suggesting, perhaps, that if the intention is to go through the act in order now with what's left, letting the wills, estates and secession folks go would be an easy out.
I suspect we probably will end up just doing the family law section today and then on to the police on another day. But certainly the wills, estates and secession folks….
Hon. S. Anton: If I might suggest we turn to section 10 of the Family Law Act.
On section 10.
L. Krog: I'm wondering why these words are deemed to be unnecessary.
Hon. S. Anton: The Family Law Act doesn't use the words "temporary custody" or "permanent custody." It's really a mistake to have included those two terms. Straight use of the word "custody" is better language in this section.
Section 10 approved.
On section 11.
L. Krog: This section — I'm asking if the Attorney General could explain the purpose of it, and in relation to trusts. These are trusts in the sense, in the general act — in other words, trusts that are deemed to be what I would have referred to in the old days as family property. If the Attorney General could just explain the effect of section 11.
Hon. S. Anton: In section 11 we're talking about section 83, the interpretation section. The reason for the addition of sections (3) and (4)….
Firstly, subsection (3) is to confirm that property received from a trust in respect of the beneficial interest is considered to be property derived from that beneficial interest, and in (4) it's to clarify that property does include the beneficial interest in property.
L. Krog: I wonder. For the purposes of explanation and my understanding, could the Attorney General give us some examples of what would constitute property received from a trust? In other words, would that be a payment? Would that be a transfer of real estate or shares? In other words, what in fact is indeed covered by the concept — the property received "from a trust in respect of the spouse's beneficial interest"?
Hon. S. Anton: An example would be a disbursement from a trust.
[ Page 2531 ]
L. Krog: Just to clarify — essentially a payment. Or could it be the actual asset, if you will, of the trust? In other words, can it be a stock, a share certificate, those kinds of things as well?
Hon. S. Anton: The answer to that is yes.
Section 11 approved.
On section 12.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General could simply explain the effect of this section as it relates to trusts and family property.
Hon. S. Anton: The definition here was rewritten to ensure that only the spouse's beneficial interest was captured, not the beneficial interests of other beneficiaries to the trust.
L. Krog: Just to be clear, has there been a case decision? Has there been advice from a law professor? In other words, what led to this change that required the clarification?
Hon. S. Anton: There has been no case law that I know of. However, there is feedback from trust lawyers that the section, as was currently written, was not clear enough in that…. The goal is that only the spouse's portion of an interest in trust property is divisible.
Section 12 approved.
On section 13.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General could simply explain: why this addition? In fact, the amendment was required as set out in section 13. Again, is it based on case law? Is it based on advice? What's the impetus for the change?
Hon. S. Anton: There are two changes here, and I'll do them one at a time. The first one. Again, we're not aware of case law, but family law lawyers were concerned with the way the provision was written. There was a possibility that gifts between spouses might be excluded, and the intention is only that a gift from a third party should be excluded.
I'll answer the second part. This is going now to section 13, which refers to section 85(1)(f). This is simply again to continue with the clarification from a couple of sections earlier about the spouse's beneficial interest. It makes the section clearer that the spouse's beneficial interest and property held in a discretionary trust, to which the spouse didn't contribute and that is settled by another person, is excluded from family property.
Section 13 approved.
On section 14.
L. Krog: If the Attorney General can just explain what the impetus was for this change, because we're substituting now "applicable internal law" with the definition of "proper law of the relationship." What impact, if any, will it have on the legislation?
Hon. S. Anton: The purpose of this change in section 105, under section 14, is to use terminology used in the area of conflicts of laws and add terminology which is more consistent with the uniform jurisdiction and choice-of-law rules in domestic property cases — simply to make this more common in terms of the use of this statute as it relates to other statutes and other jurisdictions.
L. Krog: Just to confirm, is the Attorney General satisfied that the change of language in and of itself will have no practical impact — in other words, that the language as interpreted by courts in both cases essentially amounts to the same thing — but just makes our language now more consistent, as the Attorney General says, with other jurisdictions?
Hon. S. Anton: That's correct. The goal was not to make a substantive change. This amendment was recommended by experts in the area of conflicts of laws. I am sure my friend will be an expert in conflicts of laws.
Section 14 approved.
On section 15.
L. Krog: To the Attorney General, if she could just explain the effect of this and why it was required.
Hon. S. Anton: As in the previous section, this is not intended to be a substantive change. It's needed to align the Family Law Act with the model Uniform Law Commission of Canada legislation, with regard to the factors to apply in declining jurisdictions and to ensure only the factors listed within the section are considered.
Sections 15 and 16 approved.
On section 17.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General could explain the effect of section 17.
[ Page 2532 ]
Hon. S. Anton: The intent of the Family Law Act was to be generally compliant with the Uniform Law Commission of Canada. There were some areas where the lawyers' advice to us was that we could improve on what had been done in the first place, and that's really what these changes in section 108 are intended to do.
Section 17 and 18 approved.
On section 19.
L. Krog: Just a quick question. I'm wondering what's contemplated by the term "specified object."
Hon. S. Anton: This part is dealing with protection orders under the Family Law Act. The words "weapon" and "firearm" refer back to the definitions in the Criminal Code. The reason to put in "or a specified object" was to give a court a more general authority to restrain the family member from possessing something else. We are not going to try and guess here what that category of things might be, but there may be something relevant to that particular relationship from which a person needs protection.
L. Krog: Just to clarify, is it contemplated that the term "specified object" will be defined by regulation at some point?
Hon. S. Anton: The protection orders are intended to protect, of course, and the purpose of leaving this rather general was to intentionally give the court a more general authority, if needed.
L. Krog: I'm just trying to understand. Would I be fair in saying that a baseball bat — although I presume and would certainly hope it doesn't fall under the definition of a weapon under the Criminal Code — could be a specified object?
Hon. S. Anton: That is correct.
Section 19 approved.
On section 20.
L. Krog: Again, if the Attorney General can simply explain what kinds of proceedings one would imagine being joined for consolidation of purposes.
Hon. S. Anton: An example would be a proceeding under the Child, Family and Community Service Act. At the same time, there may be some kind of proceeding under the Family Law Act, and this would give the court the authority to combine the two.
L. Krog: So I'm clear, if the proceeding involved property, is this provision saying that a proceeding under the Child, Family and Community Service Act — which would be conducted in Provincial Court exclusively, if my recollection is correct — could, in fact, be joined and brought into Supreme Court under this provision?
Hon. S. Anton: The two sets of proceedings have to be in the same court.
Sections 20 to 22 inclusive approved.
On section 23.
L. Krog: Very briefly, in terms of regulations respecting a prescribed class of persons for training, etc., are we very far along in determining what that training process may look like? Perhaps the Attorney General can give examples of the kinds of persons who would meet the definitions for these purposes?
Hon. S. Anton: This is a section that does require consultation. Some examples of who we intend to consult with are the family law bar, the College of Psychologists and the College of Social Workers.
Section 23 approved.
Hon. S. Anton: Chair, noting the time, as section 24 is moving on to the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act, I wonder if this may not be a bad time to adjourn until another day.
I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask to sit another day.
The committee rose at 5:50 p.m.
The House resumed; Madame Speaker in the chair.
Committee of the Whole (Section B), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Committee of Supply (Section A), having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. T. Stone moved adjournment of the House.
Madame Speaker: This House, at its rising, stands adjourned until 10 a. m. Monday morning.
The House adjourned at 5:52 p.m.
[ Page 2533 ]
PROCEEDINGS IN THE
DOUGLAS FIR ROOM
Committee of Supply
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF
The House in Committee of Supply (Section A); S. Sullivan in the chair.
The committee met at 1:38 p.m.
On Vote 29: ministry operations, $36,135,000.
Introductions by Members
B. Ralston: Before we begin, I seek leave to make an introduction. I just want to introduce in the gallery today, much to my surprise, my sister Delia Olesen, who is a teacher in Surrey, and one of my nephews, Max Olesen, who's a college instructor and a very active freelance journalist writing for Ballast. You can look him up, if you like. I'd like the committee to make them welcome here this afternoon.
The Chair: Minister of International Trade, would you like to make some statements?
Hon. T. Wat: Mr. Chair, it is my honour to defend the 2014-15 spending estimates for the Ministry of International Trade and Minister Responsible for Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce my deputy minister, Shannon Baskerville; assistant deputy minister, George Farkas, of the management services division; and at the back our ADM, Christine Little; Ramona Soares, an ADM; Paul Irwin, our executive director; and David Collier, our senior manager.
Before we get into our discussion, I would like to spend a few minutes talking about the achievements our ministry has made since the last budget debate. It has been a very successful first full year of our new ministry. We have worked diligently to deliver on our mandate to open and expand international markets for our goods and services; to attract investment for our province's businesses, entrepreneurs and communities; and to leverage our many family, cultural and business links to countries across the Pacific and around the world.
We have taken great strides towards meeting those goals this year. The value of our goods exports increased by 6.9 percent in 2013 compared to 2012. Exports to China were up 13.6 percent, and the value of shipments to India increased 45 percent. At the same time, we have protected and grown our market share in the United States, with exports across our shared border up over 12 percent in 2013.
We have welcomed world-class companies and projects to B.C., including animation leaders Industrial Light and Magic, Rovio and Sony Pictures, Imageworks and the Angry Birds movie. Global giant Credit Suisse chose Vancouver for its first ground-up development in North America.
In the past year we have worked closely with our federal counterparts as Canada has secured new free trade agreements such as Canada-Europe comprehensive economic and trade agreement — CETA — and with South Korea, Canada's first free trade agreement with an Asian market. Those agreements will help British Columbia restore and then expand our market share with those economic powerhouses.
The Premier and I led a jobs and trade mission to priority markets in Asia in late 2013. We met with key decision-makers to advance the development of our LNG industry. We strengthened our government-to-government relationships with a series of agreements and MOUs and established B.C.'s first special representative in Asia.
He will work in concert with our trade representatives to provide on-the-ground expertise and access to key decision-makers in industry and government and also make sure Asian corporations looking to locate their North American headquarters know that British Columbia is the gateway through which they can grow their North American operations.
All of this international outreach effort — trade missions, our special representative in Asia and on-the-ground network — is about putting time and effort into understanding our priority markets and knowing which companies can benefit from the many opportunities available in B.C. We know that you have to nurture these relationships even after you become friends and partners.
We have worked with the Bank of China to consolidate its Canadian trade finance services in Vancouver, and so far this fiscal year we have attracted 21 offices to British Columbia, which is already a significant increase over last year's total.
Here in British Columbia we are working to attract investment and venture capital to fund the projects of the future, because innovation and entrepreneurship create jobs, diversify economic activity and help keep British Columbia globally competitive. I'm very happy to report that this year has been a milestone year for investment and venture capital attraction in B.C. A recent Thomson Reuters report put British Columbia's venture capital investment at $478 million in 2013, more than double the amount invested the year before. This gave the province an above-average, 24 percent, market share.
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Also, I'm happy to report that in the recent Global Financial Centres Index survey, Vancouver placed 17th, to move up two spots, from 19th, in the previous survey. Now it is clear that Vancouver is truly considered an important gateway for investment and financial services from Asia.
In the year to come, we are looking forward to more shared milestones across a number of key areas. I recently finished a trade and investment mission to the U.S. east coast, where I opened a B.C. pavilion at Seafood Expo North America. As we work to promote our high-quality and sustainable seafood, our seafood exports to China reached $163 million in 2013, compared to only $29.3 million in 2003.
This year we will continue to advance British Columbia's interests in trade negotiations, including the TPP — Trans-Pacific Partnership — and bilateral talks with Japan and India.
We will introduce a formal apology to B.C.'s Chinese community for historical wrongs — in the House before the end of session, as promised. Last year we launched a consultation process to discuss the wording, delivery and legacy efforts for that formal apology.
During the consultation process we visited seven communities throughout British Columbia. About 1,329 people attended seven forums. We received 158 verbal submissions and over 80 written submissions. Ministry staff are currently drafting the summary report that will include recommendations and the wording of the apology motion.
It is an important moment, because increasing the engagement of all cultures in our province is vital so that we can all work together and create a vibrant social and economic future for British Columbia, and because our multicultural society is a bridge across the Pacific and one of our many competitive advantages in a global economy.
This year we will also continue to deliver on our jobs plan commitments, and to do that, we will access contingency funding to respond to changing priorities in the global marketplace. Contingency access was approved by the Ministry of Finance. It is good fiscal management because my ministry will only get the money it needs, and it will be fully reflected in this year's public accounts.
Access to contingency gives the ministry flexibility to respond to changes in programming priorities as they arise. For example, we plan for two Premier's trade missions per year. We may deliver more or fewer depending on strategic opportunities that align with our government's and ministry's priorities to make sure we get the best return on investment in terms of outcomes.
This also applies to our trade negotiations, such as the shift in emphasis to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to our international trade and investment operations, so we can react when we identify an emerging or new opportunity and make the most of that opportunity and our province's many competitive advantages.
That is what has formed the foundation of our ministry's work this past year and what will carry us into the next year and beyond.
I would be happy to receive comments, remarks and questions from members of the Legislature.
B. Ralston: I want to begin first with the topic of trade offices. As the minister will know, there has been a recent expansion in the number of trade offices internationally funded by the government of British Columbia and, ultimately, by the taxpayers of British Columbia.
I'm wondering if the minister can explain her view of those trade offices. Are those offices outposts of the British Columbia government and, as such, open to whoever may choose to come there and visit — in particular, members of the Legislature, including members of the opposition?
Hon. T. Wat: Our trade and investment offices — 11 offices, actually, all over the world — are open to all British Columbians, including, of course, the members of the Legislature. These offices — their role is to support our trade and investment.
B. Ralston: Perhaps, then, the minister can explain what happened last fall. As the minister knows, I spoke to her personally at Korea day on Friday, October 18. This is contained in a letter to her dated October 23, 2013, for those on your staff who may be able to provide you with the letter. I have extra copies, which I will table at the end of my remarks.
I was planning to travel to London, England. I add parenthetically just now, in case any members of the media are listening, that I travelled economy class. I travelled alone. I did not travel with my spouse.
That conference was a conference in London, a two-day conference about the operation of Auditors General and audit committees internationally. We were addressed by a range of English experts from the national audit commission, including the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament of Great Britain. I was accompanied there by the MLA for Vancouver–False Creek who, coincidentally, is here in the chair. He travelled there as well. He was a participant in the conference as well.
We were there for those two days. I had spoken to the minister, asking for the opportunity to be briefed by a member of the staff of the British Columbia office in London. I was referred, immediately after we spoke, to Mr. Bremner, who is, as many will know, a member of your staff, and a candidate for the B.C. Liberal Party who was unsuccessful in the election in New Westminster in 2013.
[ Page 2535 ]
He said yes, that he would arrange that. He knew the name of the person in charge, a woman named Susan Haird. That, I thought, had been placed in motion.
When I was there, I received a communication from the minister's office saying that it wasn't possible to meet. I hadn't given enough notice. There was no way to accommodate me for even 15 minutes in an entire business week. I wrote back a letter explaining why I was there, that I was there on official business of the Legislature of British Columbia at the very least. I was accompanied by the MLA for Vancouver–False Creek.
I was looking forward to that briefing, since I was there. It would be very difficult and impractical to incur the expense to travel there solely for that visit. I looked forward to the visit, but that was flatly refused by your office.
Indeed, you directed a letter to me personally, saying that for some reason in this office of some eight people over the course of a week they couldn't accommodate a short meeting with a member of the Legislature who happened to be your critic.
Are these offices open to the public, or are they just the preserve of the B.C. Liberal Party?
Hon. T. Wat: I just want to let the member opposite know that B.C. international offices are intended to serve export- and investment-ready B.C. businesses. As our office contact information is publicly available, our officers in B.C. can assist on making the connection to any of our international offices.
B.C. companies and other individuals wanting to engage with one of our representatives for the first time will work through the ministry staff in Vancouver to identify the appropriate contact person in the trade and investment representative office. Head office staff are generally best placed for wide general market information.
Additionally, we can also build a suitable program if we are provided a reasonable amount of lead time. Our officers are experts at this and play a key role in providing matchmaking services to B.C. companies who are looking to expand their trade or to learn about potential opportunities to diversify.
To answer the member's question, I do understand that the member opposite was able to meet with our managing director, Susan Haird, who had personally rearranged her schedule to make time for the member. I'm very pleased that she was able to have the meeting with the member opposite.
B. Ralston: Well, first, let me note that in the estimates briefing note to the minister, speaking about inbound delegations from Asia: "High-level delegations from Asia-Pacific often arrive without much prior notice. Nevertheless, there's an expectation to host these delegations, given that the Premier or minister may have been hosted by them in Asia."
So there seems to be an understanding in the ministry that notice may not be the paramount consideration when deciding whether or not to make time in one's schedule. Clearly, the opposition MLA for International Trade is a low priority for this minister, and accommodation was not made.
What took place, as the minister has mentioned, was that I simply went to the office on my own, unannounced, without an appointment. Lo and behold, the person who I wanted to meet with was there, not in a meeting, available and quite prepared to chat.
What she said I thought was significant. "Mr. Ralston, we heard you were coming, and then we didn't hear more." So clearly…. What I interpret is that a political direction was given by the minister's office not to accommodate me there because it wasn't politically convenient for the minister to have me at that office.
Fortunately, Ms. Haird, who's a retired public servant, probably could deal with 20 MLAs at the drop of a hat — very accomplished, very poised. She was sufficiently gracious and sufficiently politically savvy, I might say, to invite me in and meet with me.
It wasn't a question of unavailability. It was a question, I suggest, of the minister giving a political direction — and if it wasn't her, from the Premier's office — not to accommodate me.
Can the minister explain to the people of British Columbia why the critic for that area would be barred entry to a facility, an operation, an outpost paid for by the taxpayers of British Columbia and there to serve British Columbia? Yet the critic, a member of the Legislature was…. What the minister proposed was to deny me entry there, even though I was there, in London, with the member for Vancouver–False Creek.
Hon. T. Wat: I want to assure the member opposite that there was no intent whatsoever to not accommodate your visit to our London office. In fact, I'm sure you remember, to the member opposite, that I told my assistant right at the Korean national day celebration: "You have to make that happen." I'm pleased to see that the member was able to meet with our managing director, Ms. Susan Haird, and I would be more than happy to talk to you further on this issue if you would like to, Member.
B. Ralston: Well, just to respond to the minister and the suggestion that I had to make it happen, she's the minister. As a courtesy, I asked her. I spoke with Mr. Bremner, the former Liberal candidate for New Westminster, defeated in the last election, who is part of her ministerial staff, and he assured me that it would be no difficulty. He knew the person, Susan Haird. He mentioned her instantly. Those arrangements, as far as I was concerned, were underway.
[ Page 2536 ]
What happened, I suggest, was a direction from either the minister or the Premier's office that this meeting was not to take place. That's confirmed by what Ms. Haird said when she said that she had heard that I was coming and then didn't hear anything further, which would suggest that the initial plan was put in place and then stopped by someone.
It is important that the minister be candid with the House. Did she give a political direction that I not visit? If it wasn't her, did a direction come from the Premier's office that I not be afforded the courtesy of being received there?
Hon. T. Wat: I just want to assure the member opposite once again that there was no direction coming from me, myself, not to accommodate your meeting with the managing director, and there was no direction from the Premier's office either. Again, I want to emphasize that I'm pleased that you'll be able to meet with our managing director, Ms. Susan Haird.
B. Ralston: Before I begin some questions about trade office operations, I want to…. Perhaps the minister is aware of this or her staff can confirm this. On December 20, 2013, pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, I requested records. This is a letter written by research officer Jon Robinson to the manager, information access services, Ministry of International Trade.
I'm going to read the letter, because I think…. At least the request part of the letter. It's not that long.
"Pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, I request records on the British Columbia trade and investment representative office…"
There was one for each office. This one is concerned with the office in Bangalore, but there was one directed to each of the offices: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chandigarh, London and the one in California.
"…including but not limited to a copy of the contract service agreement and/or any other fiscal arrangements between the government of British Columbia…."
And in this case, it's Agamya Business Services LLP that apparently operates that office. In each letter there's a reference to the provider.
"…any and all records providing details on the trade office, including its location, rent or lease agreements, staffing numbers, FTEs and salary information, office mandate and a detailed breakdown of the office's budget, performance reports, performance measures, indicators, economic reports, economic measures indicators, charts, graphs, statistics, forecast briefing materials and any other final records or reports produced by the trade office for the Minister or the Ministry of International Trade."
That was submitted on December 20. We are here today at the end of March, and as of yet I have received absolutely nothing from this process.
Can the minister explain, without resorting to the mumbo-jumbo of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, why her office would fail to disclose basic business information about the operation of trade offices that are, after all, paid for by the taxpayers of British Columbia? I'm sure they feel that they would be entitled to know just how their money is being spent.
Hon. T. Wat: Member, I understand from my staff that this particular FOI application is delayed because the request involves proprietary contract information, which requires us to consult with those companies. I just want to let you know how this FOI process is. Our ministry works cooperatively with our colleagues in the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens' Services to discharge our obligation to respond to information access requests openly and in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
This fiscal year, to date, our ministry's response rate is 90 percent on time, which is considered very good for a ministry.
B. Ralston: I'm sure the 10 percent are MLA requests that aren't fulfilled in time.
This FOI raises very basic questions of accountability. They're included in Vote 29, ministry operations, international trade and investment attraction. One of the appropriation descriptions refers to the operation of the province's international network of trade and investment representatives and offices. So that's part of the voted appropriation, and that's what I'm asking questions about.
I'm asking for the details of the public expenditure that's being made in this year's estimates: $15,065,000. Is the minister saying that she's not willing to divulge the answers to these questions — very basic questions of financial accountability?
As the Chair will tell you — he's the vice-Chair of the Public Accounts Committee; I chair it — public accountability for spending is very much in the air these days. People want to hear answers. So is the minister saying she's not going to give answers because it's somehow tied up in some process that she's hiding behind?
Hon. T. Wat: I would be happy to answer questions regarding our trade and investment office overseas. As I told you earlier, I understand from my staff that this request was delayed due to the need to consult. I just learned that actually, the information will be released shortly. I'm happy to answer any question that the member opposite has regarding our international trade and investment office right in this discussion.
B. Ralston: Will the minister make a commitment that this aspect of the estimates debate be adjourned until those documents are provided? Then I can review them, and the minister can return here and answer questions
[ Page 2537 ]
when I have those documents in front of me. Is she prepared to make that commitment here today?
Hon. T. Wat: I just want the member opposite to understand that we do have a legal requirement to give our contractors the opportunity to object to the release of their proprietary information prior to the release. That's why the delay in the release of the information.
As I said earlier, Member opposite, I'm prepared to answer any question today that you have of our international trade office. Once you receive the information, my staff will be available to answer any questions you have. We are ready to provide a thorough briefing that you want any time.
B. Ralston: Well, clearly the minister is answering no, she's not prepared to adjourn this part of the estimates so that she can come back and be publicly accountable on the record.
It's one thing to be given documents and meet with ministry staff and have no public record created, no accountability. If there is a dispute about what is said, there's no way of resolving it. The advantage of being here — and that's an important part of the Legislature, an important part of the estimates process — is that the minister is here. There's a record being made of this, and people can listen to it and judge for themselves.
I'll take the minister's unfortunate answer as no, she's not prepared to adjourn that part in order that those documents can be provided to me and reviewed.
Can the minister explain why a contract with a public body such as the Ministry of International Trade does not contain a contractual provision that it would have to be released upon request — by the Legislature, for example? Surely these contractors recognize that they're contracting with a public body. Surely there's not incendiary or trade proprietary information in a contract of this nature.
In any event, why did not the government drafters of these contracts include a provision that would oblige those accepting these contracts to agree that they be produced to the Legislature, at the very least, and publicly when asked?
[M. Bernier in the chair.]
Hon. T. Wat: With all due respect to the member opposite, I just want to emphasize once again that we go through a competitive process. Our contractors, the businesses, view all this as competitive information. I'm here to be accountable for the whole operation of our trade and investment offices.
Let me tell you a little bit about the results of these TIO offices all over the world. The total value of foreign direct investment influenced by our ministry programs during 2012 and 2013 was over $4.29 billion. Just for the first quarter to the third quarter of the current fiscal year it's over $690 million.
Our TIO networks assessing and attracting new international offices to B.C. have grown from 14 offices for the fiscal year 2012-13 to, already, 21 offices in the first quarter to the third quarter of the current fiscal year. From April 2012 through December 2013 the TIO network facilitated the conclusion of 335 international business agreements. So these are some of the achievements of our ministry.
B. Ralston: I appreciate the diversion from the minister, but I want to return to my question.
The minister said it's a competitive process, yet a contract is signed. Is the minister saying that because it's a competitive process, the contract that's signed as a result of that process — with a public body — is not going to be disclosed? Is that what the minister is saying?
Hon. T. Wat: The requirements of the Freedom of Information Act must be met. Section 21 of the FOI Act requires the ministry to protect the proprietary information. We have to consult formally with third parties, and the file is lawfully on hold to permit the contractors to decide if they will agree to the ministry's release.
B. Ralston: I just note for the record that the minister was huddled with her officials for five minutes before providing that very brief answer.
What I asked was: is the minister prepared to explain why a contract with a public body, one through a competitive process, would not automatically be released? She refers to proprietary information in the abstract. What in the provision of trade investment services, the running of the office, hiring of people, working with people in local business and the community…? What of that general description, which would presumably be outlined in the contract, including an annual rate or…? I think the contracts are typically for three years. What would be proprietary about that?
If that's the concern, why would the contract be drafted in a way that it would contain proprietary information? But first, the minister can perhaps try to explain to me how that contract would contain proprietary information. These are, I would assume, relatively straightforward provision-of-service contracts, which are ubiquitous in the business world.
Hon. T. Wat: Just for the member's information, the ministry is engaged in a legal process which involves the third party's rights to challenge what we want to release.
[ Page 2538 ]
We are respecting that process.
Information about salaries of managing directors and their staff is competitive. Releasing the information has the potential to influence future bidding. The government's goal is to get the best value for money for B.C. taxpayers. This is why we have a competitive procurement process.
B. Ralston: Well, thank you very much for that response. Is the minister then saying that the contracts and service agreements that I requested from each trade office will not be released? If the person who signed the contract, knowing that this was with the public body…? Is that what the minister is saying?
Presumably, in the negotiation the responsible official would notify the bidders that this was with the public body and there may be requirements of disclosure that go beyond ordinary commercial practice, in the sense that this is with the public body. There are different legal obligations to the Legislature, to the Auditor General, to internal audit and to the Minister of Finance that may not be present when the contract is between two private parties. Can the minister explain why, apparently, that wasn't done or isn't done?
The party contracting with the government for contracts which, in some cases, are over $1 million — in the case of Beijing last year, $1.456 million; and in the case of Shanghai, $1.241 million last year…. Can she explain why those, apparently, might not be released?
Hon. T. Wat: Just for your information, the contractors lawfully have until April 1 under this FOI request to request to the Privacy Commissioner a review of the ministry's decision to release information in the contract. We will release the contracts once the lawful contractor consultation process is completed. We cannot release the information until April 2.
I would like to provide the member opposite with my ministry's forecast for each of our international offices for this fiscal year. For the United States the forecast is $711,000. For Europe it's $1.266 million. For China: in Beijing it's $1.548 million; for Shanghai it's $1.068 million; for Guangzhou it's $679,000; and for Hong Kong it's $863,000. For Japan, in our Tokyo office, it's $1.401 million, and for Seoul in Korea it's $981,000. For India the total operation cost is $1.362 million.
B. Ralston: What I also asked for was performance reports and performance measurements. From your briefing notes, which I did manage to get in an FOI procedure — it took some time — this is advice to you that was prepared for estimates last year.
It says: "The TIRs" — that is, the trade and investment representative offices, and I'm reading from this document — "are subject to a rigorous performance management
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system with yearly targets assigned in their contracts for such measures as number of B.C. companies introduced to their market, deals signed, foreign investment into the province, partnership agreements and delivery of in- and outbound missions."
That was included in a request made on my behalf back on December 20. Why aren't those documents released? Those are documents prepared for the government to monitor the contract. Presumably, they're intended to be published. So why are those not released, as requested back in December, now over some three months ago?
Hon. T. Wat: I'm more than happy to answer any question you have with regard to any of the information that you talk about in each and every one of our international offices.
B. Ralston: Anyone reading the record will know that wasn't a response to the question that I posed.
What Mr. Buttner said in his note to the minister last year is that these offices "are subject to a rigorous performance management with yearly targets" — I'm going to repeat it — "assigned in their contracts for such measures as number of B.C. companies introduced to their market, deals signed, foreign investment into the province, partnership agreements and delivery of in- and outbound missions."
That's in the estimates notes, entitled "2013/2014 Estimates Note: Advice to the Minister," revised June 28, 2013. So this has been around for a while. I'm sure one of the officials over there has it and can confirm that.
Is the minister saying that documents relating to the performance of the contract — the government evaluating whether the government is getting value for money in these contracts — is not available to the public to scrutinize, when some of these contracts, as the minister has said, are over $1 million? Is that the minister's response?
Hon. T. Wat: I'm able today to provide the member the performance of our international offices. Let me give you some of the performances for the year 2012-13. The number of trade and investment leads that our offices generated is 1,128. The total FDI — foreign direct investment — influenced by our ministry is $4.2 billion. The new international offices that we managed to get to come to B.C. is 14. The number of international business agreements signed is 178. The total inbound and outbound mission is 145.
B. Ralston: I'm going to read what Mr. Klaus Buttner, executive director of the international market development, says in his note to the minister. It's that the TIRs — that is, the trade and investment representative offices — "are subject to a rigorous performance management system, with yearly targets assigned in their contracts for such measures as number," and he goes on.
The point of the performance management system — as people like the Chair, who has been a business person, will know — is to have a target that you're contracted to reach and then measure your performance against whether you met the target. So it's fine for the minister to recite some numbers in the abstract. It doesn't mean very much, because it's not a part of the "rigorous performance management system." Those are the words of Mr. Buttner, who compiled the note.
Is the minister not prepared to release those documents that would enable members of the public, those who are interested in performance…? Certainly, the Auditor General has often expressed an interest in these things — the metrics, the numbers that compare what was contracted for with what the results were, in order to decide whether the people of British Columbia, in spending these very big sums of money, are getting value for money. Why won't the minister agree to provide those here right now?
Hon. T. Wat: We are prepared to release performance metrics and targets for our international offices. We will provide this information to you. Right now all of our offices are in the process of finalizing their outcomes for 2013-14, and we will release these targets and the outcomes when they are ready.
B. Ralston: "When they're ready" — perhaps the minister could be more specific. I assume that that wouldn't be later today so that when these estimates are adjourned to Monday morning, there would be opportunity then to pose some questions to the minister based on the disclosed information. Is that what the minister is saying — that it'll be released later today and available over the weekend so that I can prepare some questions for the minister on Monday?
Hon. T. Wat: As I said earlier, our international offices are finalizing the outcomes for this fiscal year. They will take time to come up with all the achievements. When the information is ready, then we'll release it to you.
B. Ralston: Would the minister give us a time frame, then? That's a very vague answer. Will it be in two weeks, four weeks, 45 days, 90 days, 120 days, six months? When does the minister propose to release these things? Certainly, given the response time on my initial request, back on December 20, of over three months now, I don't expect any great haste will be exhibited. But could the minister put a timeline on that?
Hon. T. Wat: In general, the international offices will provide the information in April, and then we will validate and review. It is anticipated that the information will be available in May.
B. Ralston: In order that I can prepare myself to examine this material, will the minister agree to release the results of what Mr. Buttner describes as a rigorous performance management system from April of last year?
Hon. T. Wat: To the member: as for the 2013-14 as well as the 2012-13 performance information, we will provide that to you in May.
B. Ralston: That's a small measure of progress for the first time this afternoon. I have 11 offices globally that are listed. Can the minister tell me how many of the people employed there are Canadian citizens and how many are foreign nationals?
Hon. T. Wat: We have 64 contracted staff at 11 offices all over the world. They are our contracted staff, hired for their local knowledge and expertise. We do not track their citizenship.
B. Ralston: So it's conceivable, although perhaps unlikely, that none of these contracted staff are Canadians, at all, who are representing British Columbia around the world? Is that correct?
Hon. T. Wat: To the member: as I said in my earlier answer to your question, we don't track the citizenship information. We know anecdotally that some contractors are Canadian citizens, but I want to emphasize once again that they are hired for their local knowledge and expertise.
B. Ralston: The minister will know that in our universities and colleges there are many programs where Canadians, and British Columbians, train for positions that involve international trade and have the language skills, the business background and degrees, training, local knowledge. So is the minister saying that in these contracts there is no provision, no requirement, to hire a single Canadian or British Columbian in any of these offices around the globe?
[J. Thornthwaite in the chair.]
I just wanted to confirm that. That is, it seems to me what the minister is saying — that there's no requirement to do that, to take account of and create opportunities for British Columbians who have taken language training, taken business training, want to be involved in
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international trade, or want to develop as a province or as a country a cadre of people who are committed to this kind of work to enhance our international networks…. The minister's saying that her ministry does nothing, absolutely nothing, zero, to encourage the hiring of British Columbians or Canadians.
Hon. T. Wat: Yes, indeed, I know that some contracted staff in our international office have studied, lived and worked in British Columbia, and they are now working as our contractors.
Just for your information, our B.C. international office business model is founded on leveraging local knowledge and expertise. This is what business had told us — that they really value our model.
The member opposite pointed out earlier that when you met Ms. Susan Haird in our London office, you found her really very capable. In our Vancouver office we have over 50 trade and investment staff who are Canadian citizens, highly skilled, and they speak over 40 languages.
B. Ralston: Just before I close in this area, I want to make clear that contracts of these agreements with these eleven offices may or may not be released. The detail that I've requested — details of the trade office, including its location, rent or lease agreement, staffing numbers, FTEs and salary information, office mandate and a detailed breakdown of the office's budget — may not be provided. It seems unlikely, in fact, given what the minister has said about proprietary information.
The minister mentioned the people who work in these offices — and there is an office in Beijing, an office in Tokyo, an office in Seoul — are leveraging local knowledge, their languages, and they're trained in the area. It brings me now, then, to the question of Mr. Ben Stewart. He would seem not to fit that category in any respect.
Can the minister explain why Mr. Stewart, without any language skills, without any local knowledge, was appointed to a position which is paying him $150,000 a year for services out of the Beijing office, with some supervisory duties of the Tokyo and Seoul offices, I understand, without any of those skills?
Hon. T. Wat: I understand that you travel extensively in Asia. I am sure that you fully understand that one of the keys of doing business in our priority markets, including China, India, Japan and Korea, is building and sustaining relationships, including, of course, the government-to-government relationships.
This appointment will allow key decision-makers to have direct access to a senior B.C. government official, which is a critical part of successfully doing business in Asia. China, in particular, is a highly competitive marketplace. When you look at what other jurisdictions are doing to increase their presence and attract new investment from Asia, we really need to up our game and redouble our efforts, and that is exactly what we are doing.
The special representative that the member opposite is talking about is a successful businessman and a former cabinet minister. Given this kind of background, he has direct communication with the Premier and the executive council, and he can advance and defend the province's interest in our B.C. priority markets exposing in China, Japan and Korea. He has operated at a high level of commerce and government and is a natural choice to be B.C.'s special representative in Asia.
It is very important that the special representative has knowledge of government and the confidence of the Premier and the Minister of International Trade to be the badge of government in Asia.
B. Ralston: As the minister knows, unless…. I see there's a provision in this contract for language lessons at a maximum cost of $2,400 per year. I certainly know that Mr. Stewart obviously is fluent in English. I don't know whether he's fluent in any other language. I never heard him speak French or indicate that he could speak French or indeed any other language. While he's been in business here in British Columbia, I would suggest his contact with Asia, particularly Beijing, was very limited.
Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that he was hired because he stepped aside for the Premier to create a by-election in the Kelowna riding?
Hon. T. Wat: I think you are quite aware that, similar to many senior diplomatic appointments at the national and subnational level, the special representative was selected based upon his unique qualifications, including his business expertise and experience working at the highest level of government.
He has the confidence of our executive council, and it is important that the special representative has knowledge of government and the confidence, as I said earlier, of the Premier and the executive council.
Just to cite my own experience also doing business in China, it's very important to have a government representative in China so that he can open up the doors to the government, so that we can really deepen our B.C. government relation to China. That can open up the doors for more business deals.
This special representative is fully qualified as our government representative. If the member opposite doesn't believe what I say, let me quote you some comments from the former Vancouver-Fairview MLA who is now the mayor of the city of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson:
"Appointing a B.C. commissioner for trade and investment will help strengthen our growing ties in China and raise Vancouver's stature as the Asian gateway for B.C. even more. Our city has longstanding connections with China that are growing our economy and bolstering business investment across the Pacific.
"With Vancouver's largest-ever business and cultural delegation
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set to visit China later this week, appointing Mr. Stewart will reinforce our efforts to support Vancouver companies in expanding into Chinese markets."
B. Ralston: The minister has mentioned Mr. Stewart's business experience. What is his continuing relationship, if any, with his company — particularly the winery in the Okanagan Valley?
Hon. T. Wat: The special representative met with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner, Mr. Paul Fraser. Everything remains under the same arrangement as when the special representative was in cabinet. All his holdings remain in a blind trust, and his stock portfolio is in a hold-mail account. That means he does not know nor has he had any dealings with the companies in his portfolio since May 2009.
B. Ralston: What direction, if any, did the Conflict of Interest Commissioner give Mr. Stewart in terms of promoting or dealing with the B.C. wine industry and potential export markets in Japan, Korea, China and wherever else he happens to go?
Hon. T. Wat: I'm not aware of any issues raised by the conflict commissioner other than what I have read into the record. What I can tell you is that as the B.C. special representative in Asia, he is there to promote all of our B.C. priority sectors, including the agrifood sector.
I would remind the opposition member that we also have a B.C. wine envoy who promotes the B.C. wine industry.
B. Ralston: Then is the minister saying that Mr. Stewart won't be promoting the B.C. wine industry, or he will?
Hon. T. Wat: Yes, as our special representative in Asia, he is promoting all of our priority sectors, of course including the wine industry.
B. Ralston: In his offer letter, order-in-council appointment, which he accepted, he is authorized to spend up to $5,000 a month for accommodation and up to $3,000 a month for transportation. I take it he's not getting a bus pass or a bicycle. Can the minister explain what transportation he has engaged in Beijing? Is that a car and driver, or did he purchase a vehicle?
Secondly, approximately what is he spending…? I don't, obviously, want to know the address or the specific arrangements, but what is he spending per month on accommodation and living expenses?
Hon. T. Wat: I just wanted to let you know that it is a common practice for national and subnational government representatives to use a car service in China. If you are in Beijing…. China is now different from 20 or 30 years ago. Especially in a big city, you don't see that many people riding a bicycle. For our special representative, car service is $3,000 a month.
As for his accommodation, which the member is asking for, the special representative's accommodation is within the central business district. The permanent residence for him has been selected for the reason that the cost is considered as mid-range for similar accommodation within that area of Beijing. It is $6,000 a month.
Just for your information, our staff have conducted extensive research to select reasonable and appropriate accommodation for the special representative. There are a diverse range of serviced apartment options in Beijing's central business district. The costs ranged from $5,000 to $15,000 a month, based on many factors, including location, quality and amenities.
B. Ralston: In addition, it's mentioned here that he will also be able to claim for travel expenses: "Travel expenses incurred in the conduct of business will normally be at the group 3 rate but are subject to review based on local costs." Could the minister explain what the group 3 rate is? What would be the expected monthly expenditure, at least in the budget for the coming year under vote 29, for this aspect of the job that he's been hired to do, apparently?
Hon. T. Wat: To the member's question on the group 3 travel rate: actually, the information on this group 3 travel rate is available on line at bcpublicserviceagency.gov.bc.ca.
I just want to stress that the B.C. special representative in Asia will be, for his job…. Because he needs to promote our trade and investment, he has to travel extensively throughout the year throughout Asia. He has to accompany the Premier and other ministers on their Asia missions. We have estimated a travel budget of $100,000 for this fiscal year.
B. Ralston: Two questions. One was that I just wanted to clarify something. In his letter, which he accepted on October 29, 2013 — and his signature is there, on accepting the terms in your letter — it says that his accommodation and living expenses will be covered to a maximum of $5,000 per month.
Now, did I understand the minister to say that his accommodation was going to cost $6,000 a month? Can we assume, then, that based on this agreement executed and signed not too long ago, at the end of October, he's making up the $1,000-a-month difference from his own pocket?
[ Page 2542 ]
Hon. T. Wat: When the terms of conditions of the special representative in Asia were negotiated, we estimated the accommodation costs at that time. But since then, our staff has conducted extensive research to select a reasonable and appropriate accommodation for the special representative.
As I said earlier, there are a diverse range of service apartment options in Beijing's central business district. The costs range from $5,000 to $15,000 per month, based upon many factors, including location, quality and amenities. I just want to give a comparison. We understand that the Alberta representative in Asia, Mr. Gary Mar, resides in the central business district in Hong Kong, where service apartments are priced around $11,000 Canadian per month.
Because of the research that we have done and the actual reality, we have amended the special representative's terms to $6,000 a month because it has become evident that a $5,000 per month living expense budget is prohibitive for a furnished apartment in the central business district of Beijing.
B. Ralston: I'd understood Mr. Stewart to be a very experienced, proficient business person who negotiated this agreement with his eyes wide open, yet he's not prepared — not forced — to stick to the deal, which seems a bit surprising. I don't know whether the government would exercise the same latitude with any other employee, but that's clearly what's been done here. I'll leave the public to judge that in due course.
What the terms of reference say is that the commissioner will be reporting directly to the Minister of International Trade and the Premier. Also, the commissioner will develop key performance metrics in consultation with the Ministry of International Trade and in line with ministry performance metrics.
It's been some time that he's been on the job. Can the minister tell me what performance metrics have been developed with the commissioner, and will she release them publicly in order that — for this position of $150,000 a year, plus $72,000 a year in accommodation, $36,000 in transportation and $100,000 in travel costs — the public might be able to evaluate whether they're getting any value for the money?
Hon. T. Wat: We do have a performance agreement with the B.C. special representative in Asia, which I will provide to you. I would be happy to talk to you about this today. Actually, his key responsibilities, as outlined in his performance, are as follows.
The first one is: act as the official province of British Columbia on-the-ground representative in Asia.
The second one is: represent and promote the province of British Columbia in meetings with other governments, businesses and stakeholders, including acting as host, where appropriate.
The next one is: represent and promote the province of British Columbia at events and activities to advance the Asia-Pacific trade and investment strategy and other key government priorities.
The next one: establish monthly meeting or call with senior government of international investment and company attraction, export development and major investment offices to advance key strategic accounts and files.
Next one: lead the negotiation and development of partnerships, protocols, MOUs and/or agreements with other governments, agencies and institutions, including acting as official signatory for the province of British Columbia, where required.
The next one: foster and strengthen government-to-government relationships key to B.C. companies successfully doing business in Asia.
Report to the Premier and the Minister of International Trade and advise ministers, businesses and local governments on a strategic approach to advance the province's trade and investment priorities in Asia.
Next one: leverage and maximize key strategic opportunities identified and developed as a result of trade and investment missions of the Premier and the ministers.
Advocate for and assist B.C.'s large-scale exporters in order to develop and secure new business opportunities in Asia.
Initiate and build strategic relationships with key companies and executives interested in developing, investing in or exporting B.C.'s natural gas and associated opportunities.
Lead the development and implementation of strategies to identify and attract key Asian companies to establish their North American head offices in B.C.
The last one is: review the performance of the commissioner annually to ensure performance objectives are achieved and provide updates on activities and results.
B. Ralston: Surely, he won't be doing all that himself. How many staff will he be hiring, and what's the budget for those staff?
Hon. T. Wat: Our B.C. special representative in Asia does not hire his own staff. He will work and is working with our trade and investment network in Asia and will leverage the resources in those teams, who are both market and sector specialists. They are staffed with special expertise, both in Canada and China, which will be valuable in assisting the special representative to execute his responsibilities. We are leveraging the strengths of our T and I staff to support the special representative as he promotes British Columbia to Asia.
[ Page 2543 ]
B. Ralston: What the minister is saying is that the work will be done by the existing contractors that are already in place in Beijing, in Seoul and in Tokyo, and he will just be providing another layer of bureaucracy on top. Is that correct?
Hon. T. Wat: I want to stress again that to do business in Asia, especially in China, Japan and Korea, it is extremely, highly important — crucial — that we have a government representative over there. All these years we doubled our international presence, but they are on-the-ground contractors. They are not our official government representatives.
I have been hearing from a lot of business people, in China especially, who have been asking how come we don't have a government representative there. I'm so pleased that our government appointed Mr. Ben Stewart to be our official Asia representative. This is very important.
I just want to reiterate once again what his responsibilities are. He will help us develop the crucial government-to-government relationships, which I've been emphasizing time and time again. I'm sure anybody that's doing business in Asia fully understands that. And he will work with our trade and investment officers throughout Asia to find new opportunity for our B.C. businesses.
In addition to providing advice to our ministry's staff in Vancouver, our B.C. special representative in Asia also provides foreign government and business stakeholders in Asia direct access to a senior government official who will represent the Premier and the executive council. He will leverage strategic opportunities developed as a result of trade and investment missions of the Premier and ministers.
He also advises government on strategies to advance the province's trade and investment priorities in Asia, and he also represents and promotes the province at events and activities to advance the government trade priorities.
I hope I can really convince the member opposite to understand the value and role of our special representative in Asia.
B. Ralston: Well, I'd say the only one he had to convince was the Premier, and he did that a while ago by stepping down from his seat.
Will Mr. Stewart be travelling and cultivating business relationships in Taiwan?
Hon. T. Wat: Our special representative in Asia is our representative in our four priority markets in Asia, including China, Japan, Korea and India.
B. Ralston: Given that answer, then, is the minister…? Just to be clear, I'm sure the minister is aware of the business opportunities in Taiwan, the Taiwanese-Canadian expatriate community here, the active relations, the financial solvency of Taiwan — having, I think, $600 billion in hard currency reserves — and the fact that it operates under a different system of government, perhaps more congenial to those of us here than the People's Republic of China does at times.
Not wanting to get into politics but rather focus on business opportunities, there are tremendous business opportunities there. Is the minister saying that Mr. Ben Stewart, under no circumstances, in any respect, will be cultivating business relationships in Taiwan?
Hon. T. Wat: To the member: just for your information, our ministry has well-established working-level engagements with Taiwan, both here in B.C. as well as in the market. In Vancouver, ministry staff engage frequently with the Taiwan economic and cultural office, as well as the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.
Ministry staff also meet regularly with Taiwan officials to coordinate inbound executive visas from Taiwan and to coordinate delegations from B.C. heading to Taiwan to participate in their signature trade shows. In fact, last year ministry staff presented on the B.C. ICT market at Computex Taipei, which is the largest computer exhibition in Asia and the second-largest in the world.
We will continue to work with our local Taiwanese partners here in Vancouver and in Taipei to further advance the mature and robust trade and investment relationship.
B. Ralston: I want to turn now to the issue of trade missions. I think in the service plan there's provision for the minister and her ministry to develop, in coordination with the Premier's office, trade missions to Asia.
Can the minister tell me how many trips are budgeted for in the coming fiscal year? I know last year budgeted $750,000 for the Premier's Asian trade mission, which took place in November and early December of last year.
[J. Sturdy in the chair.]
Will the minister be budgeting another three-quarters of a million dollars for a ten-day trip to Asia again?
Hon. T. Wat: Our forecast budget and mission for 2014-15 is the same. It's $750,000. Our overall trade mission costs for 2013-14 was $438,000. That was well below our $750,000 forecast.
I'm sure the member opposite can appreciate that the costs will vary according to a number of factors, such as the destination, the total number on the mission and the duration.
[ Page 2544 ]
As for the Premier's mission for November '13, the total cost was $274,882. This was released publicly, as I'm sure the member opposite is well aware. Notionally, we are planning for two Premier's missions for this fiscal year.
B. Ralston: Will the Premier and the minister be travelling business class, or will they be travelling economy when they book their airfares?
Hon. T. Wat: We are always striving to ensure we are being as efficient and cost-effective as possible. In the case of our international trade missions, business travel is used.
Given the typical travel hours for a flight to Asia…. Just by my own experience on my last trade mission to China, I worked more than 12 hours a day, starting from a seven o'clock meeting all the way to eight or nine in the evening. So it's really very hectic and very demanding. I and ministry staff are required to hit the ground running and work very long days and weekends.
I feel that in these circumstances, this is reasonable and appropriate, given the significant time commitment and effort we have asked of all of our professional public service. However, I assure you that staff work hard to secure the best deal possible to reduce travel costs to taxpayers.
B. Ralston: A couple of comments. One was that the Minister of Finance has expressed the view that economy class should be used whenever possible, and I'm wondering if the Finance Minister has blessed this decision on the part of the minister and the Premier to travel to Asia business class.
Secondly, I note that in Mr. Stewart's engagement letter, on page 2, it says that he was authorized to make five round-trip tickets per year for personal use and that all round-trip tickets are subject to the economy class airfare rate. So Mr. Stewart apparently, according to this — when he's, I suppose, travelling back and forth between British Columbia and Beijing — is going to be travelling economy. Yet the minister and the Premier are going to be travelling business class. Would she care to explain that discrepancy?
Hon. T. Wat: The trips that the member opposite referred to for the special representative in Asia, his personal trips…. I want to stress again that in the case of our international trade mission, given that the typical travelling hours are 12 hours and we are required to hit the ground right away after we get off in the airport and work very long days and weekends, I think that under these kinds of circumstances, this is reasonable and appropriate. We have so much time commitment and effort that we are travelling by business class.
I just want to let the member opposite know about the value of our trade mission. Missions are an opportunity for the province to attract investment from our priority markets in Asia and in our priority sectors.
In the last trip the Premier and I took to Asia, we have seen significant interest from some of the world's largest oil and gas companies, such as PetroChina, SINOC and Sinopec. These are the three largest state-owned-enterprise petroleum companies in China. Samsung electronics, which is the world's largest electronic company, announced its first Canadian research and development centre in Burnaby after the Premier's visit to Korea.
Bank of China announced — again after the Premier and I met with the chairman of the Bank of China in Beijing — that they had consolidated their trade finance services in Canada at its international business centre in Vancouver. So they moved from Toronto to Vancouver.
All this investment — I'm just citing a couple of our achievements — will really help grow our economy and create more jobs for British Columbians.
B. Ralston: Can the minister tell me, then, how much a return business class flight between Vancouver and Beijing would cost? I know I travelled on my own self-funded, self-guided trade mission to Japan in November. It cost me $900 return, including a side trip to Seoul — some Canadians on that. Can the minister explain just how much the difference is, just so the public can get a sense of how much business class costs? Maybe they can make their own assessment of whether it's worth the often exaggerated and very high price for business class.
Hon. T. Wat: We have released the travel costs of the Premier's and my trade mission in November 2013, and that information is publicly available. I just want to reiterate once again that our staff work really hard to secure the best deal possible to reduce travel costs to taxpayers.
B. Ralston: Will the minister state on the record how much the flight costs, please?
Hon. T. Wat: Our staff had negotiated a preferred group rate. It would not be appropriate for us to release this information. All individual travel costs are released as part of the public accounts in June 2014.
B. Ralston: Really astonishing, frankly, that a simple question, the cost of airfare incurred by the minister from Vancouver to Beijing, is something she's not prepared to put on the record. What is she hiding? Why is she afraid of answering this question?
In the budget that has been proposed of three-quarters of a million dollars for two trade missions, what is budgeted for airfare from Vancouver to Beijing next year per individual person, including the minister? How
[ Page 2545 ]
much is that going to cost? Approximately $15,000? Maybe the minister can correct me if I'm wrong.
Hon. T. Wat: All the travel costs for the Premier, for the ministers' missions and accompanying staff have already been released publicly at the website www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/connect. So you can always go there and look at all the costs there.
B. Ralston: I think the point is that I want the minister to acknowledge the cost here so that the public can be assured that she knows the cost.
I think that sometimes when government officials travel, other departments make the arrangements. They're not aware of the cost. They're not conscious of the cost to the taxpayers and, therefore, don't really take great care to worry about the cost that someone else has to pay.
Why I'm asking the minister to state it here on the record herself is to show, to demonstrate, that she's aware of the cost. Apparently she's not prepared to do that, but I'm prepared to give her one last chance to do that.
Will the minister reconsider her answer and state on the record what's budgeted for flights from Vancouver to Beijing in the two trade missions that are proposed — I would assume at least one would go to China — and how much that flight will cost?
Hon. T. Wat: Again, the travel costs for the 14-day Premier's mission and my mission are already posted on line publicly. The member opposite can get the information on line.
For this fiscal year we have not determined our mission plan, so it's too early for us to tell us what our travel costs are like. I will assure you that our staff will once again negotiate with airlines to get the best possible price.
A. Weaver: I have a number of questions, but I recognize the time, and I was hoping to pass them via you, hon. Chair, to the minister for a written response at a later date, if that's deemed acceptable by the minister. I thank the critic. I just have one question that I'd like to ask here today, and it's with respect to the Asian head office strategy.
As part of its goal of increasing investment in British Columbia, the ministry has an Asian head office strategy. As I understand it, this is a strategy to get Asian businesses to make Vancouver the choice location for opening new offices — perfectly reasonable.
Are there any performance standards by which we can judge the effectiveness of the Asian head office strategy, and how was the number of five head offices by 2020 chosen? Finally, can the minister tell me which specific industries, other than LNG, that the Asian head office strategy is focusing on?
Hon. T. Wat: First of all, I'd like to welcome the question from the member opposite. We'll be happy to provide you with a written answer to the question that you gave to us.
As for your question about the head office, the target of five head offices by 2020 actually is the performance standard against which we are measuring our progress in attracting Asian head offices. This head office is generally understood as being international, North American or Canadian headquarters. This number is a directive from the Premier, as outlined in my mandate letter, as the member opposite is well aware, and will continue to be our target for this initiative. We are always open to adjusting this goal, if it is possible to achieve it earlier than expected.
Our priority sectors for this initiative include those that are identified in the B.C. jobs plan, as well as others that we consider to be strategically important, such as the financial services sector.
I'm happy to report some kind of progress in this particular mandate, since I took up my appointment. We already actually succeeded in bringing major Asian offices to the province — the Bank of China and the Agricultural Bank, just to name two, and also the Woodfibre LNG, for which I, myself, was at the opening ceremony of the head office in Vancouver. That is their head office for North America. Actually, their plan is to hire 100 people.
I am really happy to see that we already have three head offices. I can assure you that myself and our staff will be working strenuously to try to not only reach the target but hopefully exceed the target.
Our MIT ongoing investment attraction work actually resulted in 21 new offices in B.C. in 2013 in the first three quarters. That is an increase from 16 in 2012-13.
B. Ralston: Under the Advantage B.C. agency, one of the provisions is to assist companies that seek to locate in British Columbia to have their own individual officers or officials or executives. A limited number come to British Columbia, and some of their personal income tax is forgiven.
Can the minister tell me, in the Bank of China case or in the Agricultural Bank case, how many Canadian citizens were employed by the banks, and how many foreign nationals under Advantage B.C. or other provisions of the Immigration Act came to work here in Canada?
Hon. T. Wat: Thank you, Member, for that question. We will have to work with Advantage B.C. to gather the information, and we will provide it to you once they are ready.
I'd just like to talk a little bit about Vancouver's increased competitiveness for Advantage B.C. as a leading financial centre. In the most recent Global Financial
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Centres Index survey, Vancouver placed 17th, moving up two spots from the 19th in the previous survey. With the realization that Vancouver plays an important gateway for investment and financial services from Asia as well as Canada's strong reputation for banking regulation, Vancouver has shown steady improvement from 33rd in 2008 all the way to the current standing at 17th — so from 33rd in 2008 to 17th today.
B. Ralston: The minister is claiming the establishment of some kind of office of the Agricultural Bank of China here in British Columbia as a success. I believe the other bank was the Bank of China — claiming that as a success. Can she tell the House how many people are employed at the Bank of China, how many people are employed at the Agricultural Bank of China — those two separate banks that she claims as successes — and how many of their employees are Canadian citizens?
Hon. T. Wat: Information regarding employees of private sector companies will have to be sought from these companies. I can say that as far as we understand, most of the staff of the Bank of China are Canadian citizens. Both the Bank of China and the Agricultural Bank of China will provide services to bridge trade and investment between Canada and China, helping us to grow our economy.
I would like to highlight how important the presence of the Agricultural Bank and also the Bank of China are in Vancouver. The Agricultural Bank of China is ranked as No. 10 on the bankers' list of the world's 1,000 strongest banks, in terms of the tier 1 capital, with more than $1.8 trillion in assets. As for the Bank of China, they are the fourth-largest bank in China.
Both the Premier and I, when we were in Beijing, were able to meet with the chairmen of three major banks: the Bank of China, the Agricultural Bank and also the Development Bank of China.
Just for the information of the member opposite, it's not easy to secure a meeting with the chairmen of such high-level banks. It shows that the banking institutions in China really value Vancouver as a leading financial centre in North America.
B. Ralston: If I could just return to the issue of travel costs. I did have a chance to look up, while we were waiting for that last answer, the international trade mission cost summary. The travel costs are listed for the official delegation as $64,395.
Can the minister tell me how many people were considered to be part of the official delegation?
Hon. T. Wat: The $64,000 travelling cost was for the Premier's delegation. The delegation was comprised of six individuals, including the Premier. These are the total travel costs from Vancouver to China, within China, to Japan and to Korea over twelve days and back to Vancouver.
B. Ralston: I take it the minister is not prepared to provide any more detail other than what's in that news release. Is that correct?
Hon. T. Wat: As you know, these are the travelling costs we released to the public already.
B. Ralston: Well, I suppose what people would be interested in is the individual cost paid by the public on behalf of the minister and/or on behalf of the Premier or other individual members of the delegation.
When the number is aggregated like that, it's obviously impossible to tell how much any individual person paid, or was paid on their behalf. I gather that the minister is not prepared to disclose that. That's regrettable. I think that's obstructionist, and I think the public has a right to know. Yet I don't expect any change in that, so I'll move on to another topic.
One of the obligations that the minister has set out in her service plan is to represent British Columbia. In the service plan it's phrased this way: "We advance B.C.'s interests with the federal government in international trade negotiations to create new opportunities in key markets, like India, the Asia-Pacific and Europe, and ensure that the softwood lumber agreement between the United States and Canada is honoured and B.C.'s interests are protected."
The minister has made — when some of the announcements about preliminary deals, particularly in relation to the Canada-Europe trade agreement — some very supportive statements about that deal. In general, there is obviously much to be considered in a trade deal with Europe: 500 million people; some of the highest standards in the globe in terms of social standards, environmental protection and labour rights. There's certainly something to be considered there.
One of the issues that is of some debate — and more particularly, in Europe both the Chancellor of Germany and the French President have expressed a view on it, because there is a parallel negotiation going on between Europe and the United States.
One of the provisions that's attracted a lot of debate, both in national parliaments in Europe and in the European parliament, is what is called the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism. That's a mechanism that would allow and does allow private investors to sue governments if they felt local laws threatened their investments.
I'm advised by an article in the Financial Times, a fairly recent one, that public opposition to its inclusion
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has grown in both Europe and the U.S. since the launch last year of negotiations over a transatlantic trade area. In fact, earlier this year the European Commission suspended negotiation over the ISDS — that's the investor-state dispute settlement — clause to allow for a 90-day public consultation expected to be launched within days. Apparently, opposition continues to grow.
Now, perhaps the minister, given that she is representing British Columbia's interests…. Under section 92 of the Constitution Act, the provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over certain areas, and as a result, only provincial governments may act to implement Canada's international obligations in these areas.
Can the minister explain what the existing difficulties are in terms of protection for Canadian investors in the European Union and how these difficulties would be overcome or reduced if the proposed CETA, as it's called, is ratified?
Hon. T. Wat: Before I'm going to answer the question regarding CETA, I would like to also put on record to respond first to the member opposite about his statement. I want to emphasize that I'm not being obstructionist in providing individual travel information for the Premier's mission. There was a delegation of six people at a cost of $64,000 over 12 days. I think the member opposite can figure the math himself.
As for the question regarding CETA for this investor state, this bill settlement process, similar to what Canada has with the United States under NAFTA, the investor state, this bill settlement system, in the CETA provides certainty for investors and businesses while, at the same time, providing important safeguards to ensure that frivolous claims are discouraged or dismissed.
B. Ralston: That's exactly why I think the German chancellor and the French president and a number of members of the European parliament are concerned about the investor-state mechanism that's proposed in the negotiations between Europe and the United States. As the minister mentions, apparently, although the full text has not yet been revealed, despite…. I know that the minister is prepared to support it without viewing this full text. I think that perhaps a little more caution should be exercised.
Certainly, chapter 11 of NAFTA is notorious in the decisions that have resulted. There have been a number of examples where investor actions are not taken in national courts, the regular court system, but through unaccountable, secret and unappealable commercial arbitration panels.
Some of the examples of those actions are where constant pressure has been brought against public policies of elected Canadian governments. As an official minister representing one of Canada's governments, I would expect the minister to express a bit more concern about this.
For example, there's Mobil Oil's successful challenge to research and development policies in Newfoundland, Mercer International's suit against the B.C. Hydro's industrial rate policies, AbitibiBowater's successful challenge of provincial water and timber rights in Newfoundland, Lone Pine's $250 million lawsuit against Quebec's fracking moratorium and drug giant Eli Lilly's $500 million challenge of generic drug rules.
Given that a number of European governments are certainly rethinking the necessity of having that in a trade relationship with the United States, what is the policy of this government? The minister is the person who's responsible for this. What is the policy of this government, and what is the minister's awareness of that debate in Europe? Would she be prepared to make representations to the federal government before the ratification takes place?
Hon. T. Wat: Our government supports the CETA agreement in principle and the outcomes we expect it to deliver for British Columbia. Our province depends on trade and investment for economic growth and job generation. We're a small, open economy. With a market of half a billion people, the European Union is the largest trading block in the world, and opportunities are possible for our exporters of goods and services.
Concluding this agreement, the CETA, will make Canada a more attractive destination for foreign investment, not just European investment — that would benefit British Columbia, of course — and a more attractive partner for additional trade negotiations, including with the high-growth economy in Asia. As matter of fact, we just concluded a free trade agreement with South Korea a few weeks ago, so we can see the effect of CETA.
The ISDS mechanism provides transparency for investors and recourse against discrimination. Canada and the EU are both First World jurisdictions with developed investment rules and regulations. The EU is Canada's second-largest source of foreign direct investment, just behind the U.S.A. Guaranteeing assets to international courts through an ISDS mechanism ensures that B.C. investors will be granted an effective remedy when discriminated against.
The Chair: Member, just recognizing the time. We probably have time for one more, perhaps, if that's agreeable.
B. Ralston: Well, certainly. You're the Chair.
I want to add a comment from the Zeit Online. This is not my translation. It's a comment by the German secretary of state in the ministry of economy, Brigitte Zypries. This is a conservative government. It's not a socialist government, God forbid, that exists in France, but surprisingly, they have the same perspective on this. She says:
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"From the perspective of the federal government, the U.S. investors from the EU offer sufficient legal protection in their national courts…. The federal government" — she's referring to the German federal government — "has critically examined from the beginning whether such a provision in the negotiation ought to be included in a free trade agreement. We are currently in the consultation process and are committed to ensuring that arbitration proceedings are not included in the contract."
That is, the resort to commercial arbitration as opposed to the resort to national courts, where disputes arise between investors and the state.
The minister, other than, I think, repeating some boilerplate talking points, is not really grappling with the issue. I think it's a significant issue. It's been raised by the German federal government, the conservative government. They are not prepared, at this point — that's what they say — to include such a provision, similar to NAFTA chapter 11, in the ongoing negotiations with the United States.
Yet the draft agreement — we understand that the final text has not been released. The text with Europe, between Europe and Canada, has such a mechanism.
So when real concerns like this are expressed by, as the minister points out, First World countries with very effective trading systems, global reach and a sophisticated understanding of trade law, I think it behooves the minister to consider these points and provide an answer that's something other than boilerplate.
Hon. T. Wat: Thank you for the question from the member opposite. I want to let you know that the final text is not completed yet. We are now working closely with the government of Canada on all the issues of interest to British Columbia. This provision is important to B.C. to protect the interests of B.C. industry under NAFTA.
My staff will be pleased to provide you with a full CETA briefing as we have done so with the previous Trade critic.
I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 5:50 p.m.
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