1975 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 30th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, JUNE 9, 1975
[ Page 3193 ]
Committee of Supply: Department of Labour estimates
On vote 123.
Mr. Smith — 3193
Hon. Mr. King — 3193
Mr. Wallace — 3193
Hon. Mr. King — 3193
On vote 124.
Mr. Phillips — 3194
Hon. Mr. King — 3194
Mr. Phillips — 3195
Hon. Mr. King — 3196
Mr. Phillips — 3196
Hon. Mr. King — 3197
Mr. Fraser — 3198
Hon. Mr. King — 3198
Mr. Wallace — 3199
Hon. Mr. King — 3200
Mr. Smith — 3200
Hon. Mr. King — 3202
Mr. Smith — 3203
Hon. Mr. King — 3203
Department of Highways estimates
On vote 93.
Mr. Fraser — 3204
Hon. Mr. Lea — 3207
Mr. Wallace — 3207
Hon. Mr. Lea — 3208
The House met at 10 a.m.
The House in Committee of Supply; Mr. Dent in the chair.
ESTIMATES: DEPARTMENT OF LABOUR
On vote 123: manpower development, $10,635,689.
MR. D.E. SMITH (North Peace River): Good morning, Mr. Chairman. It's nice to see you on a beautiful Monday morning. I welcome you back to the House. I hope you had a nice weekend, that you're in a good mood and that you'll be very cooperative with the poor Members of the Legislature this morning.
There's one item that I'd like to bring to the Minister's attention. It's on page 131, right at the bottom of the page, Mr. Chairman, where we deal with apprenticeship training, pre-apprenticeship training and tradesman upgrading. Now as I look at the vote, I notice that the allocation last year for apprenticeship training was just over $5 million, and that is reduced to $3.4 million this year. Just below it we have pre-apprenticeship training, which last year was $3.3 million and is up to $4.2 million.
It would seem that there's a redirection by the department in the terms of emphasis that they're putting on apprenticeship training as compared with pre-apprenticeship training. I'd just like the Minister to tell me what led to this decision if, in fact, that's what it is. It seems that you've increased the pre-apprenticeship training vote and decreased the apprenticeship training. What factors led to that decision?
HON. W.S. KING (Minister of Labour): Mr. Chairman, I dealt with that, I think, briefly last week when we were discussing the estimates. It's an apparent deduction in expenses for apprenticeship training, but it's the result this year of a change in the reporting of what the actual provincial training costs are.
As the Member is probably aware, the federal government makes a large amount of training dollars available to the provinces. I can say, Mr. Chairman, that I'm not at all satisfied with the amount of money which the federal government does provide to the Province of British Columbia. On an analysis which has been done by the Department of Labour, we find that British Columbia only receives 8 per cent of the total manpower training dollars allocated by the federal government. On any conceivable yardstick that you want to measure, that's pretty disproportionate. We have met with the federal Manpower Minister and discussed the disparity between British Columbia and provinces such as Alberta. We have a much higher work force. If you want to measure it by unemployment, or by the work force or any other yardstick, we're very badly treated.
Nevertheless, a large portion of these funds are paid back to the Province of British Columbia. In some instances we provide the initial training dollars and then we're repaid by the federal government. So the number of people under apprenticeship training and the total amount of allocation are up a good deal over previous years, but the method of reporting it reflects what we anticipate receiving back from the federal government. Therefore it shows a reduction over other years. But it's basically just the system of reporting on what's anticipated as a return of dollars from the federal government.
MR. G.S. WALLACE (Oak Bay): Mr. Chairman, I'm not sure if this is the vote but I wonder if the Minister could comment briefly on the student employment programme. In two respects he did put out a very informative press release in February dealing with what had happened in the 1974 programme in trying to give students employment and also give them some kind of occupation perhaps related to their future careers. But I notice that as far as this summer is concerned the applications far exceeded the available jobs. I'm not suggesting the Minister can produce jobs out of a hat for everybody that wants them in the summer, but I wonder if we could have some idea of how many students made application how many were successful and, basically, what fields of employment they will be working in.
HON. MR. KING: Mr. Chairman, we mounted essentially the same programmes as last year. There are five different programmes under the student summer employment programme. Some of them are career-oriented toward providing practical experience and training in the chosen career areas of the students. As an example, we take certain law students out of the universities and put them on the police beats so that they, perhaps, get a broader appreciation and understanding of the kind of endeavour they've chosen for life. Similarly, we take medical students and send them out to work with GPs in the wilderness areas.
Then there are the programmes such as park improvements mounted through the regional districts and the municipalities — the kind of community betterment programmes that are mounted by the local municipalities. Then we have the direct programmes related to government departments. We have the programme for farmers and small businessmen under which the province subsidizes the
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wages of students to a maximum of $300 per month. So there are a variety of initiatives to try and provide worthwhile jobs.
I have two complete volumes here, which I won't bother going into, but which are a response to last year's programme. From all of the elements who participated in the programme we received in excess of a 75 per cent expression of support that the programme had been meaningful from the point of view of the students and had been beneficial and productive from the point of view of the businesses and municipalities involved. I think we can take from that that it wasn't just a make-work programme that was mounted to put dollars in pockets but was a meaningful work experience for both parties. The response was really excellent.
As the Members are aware, we had a lower budget to work with this year. We had to use $15 million of the $35 million that had been allocated for special employment projects in the forest sector to help mitigate what had been an extremely high unemployment year in the forest industry. Consequently, that left us with $20 million to mount programmes for students. Even at that, the projection is that there will be 10,000 students employed under this programme.
The Members can appreciate that it takes some time to make the full analysis. Some areas, such as regional districts, who are allocated money fail to utilize it all. That results in a reallocation to some other area that had a programme without adequate funding. So the programme is delayed in terms of analyzing all of the employment that flows from it.
Vote 123 approved.
On vote 124: Labour Relations Board, $989,175.
MR. D.M. PHILLIPS (South Peace River): I was just reading the Labour Relations Board annual report that was recently tabled in the Legislature by the Minister. The understanding that I have of the Labour Relations Board, according to their report, is that it is to exercise jurisdiction over such matters as certification, unfair labour practices, differences under a collective agreement and the like under the new statutory provisions approved by the B.C. Legislature in the fall. A final step in the process was the proclamation on Labour Day, 1974, of part 5 of the Labour Code, giving the board exclusive jurisdiction over strikes, lockouts, picketing, and the repeal of mediation services.
The report goes on to say that the fundamental principle of the Labour Code, stated right at the outset of section 2, is that every employee is free to be a member of a trade union and to participate in its lawful activity.
In the case that I mentioned with regard to local people wanting employment with B.C. Hydro on local jobs — which information I have supplied to the Premier and which information the Premier supplied to the Minister — in those cases local people who did not belong to the union are being refused union membership on the basis that there are sufficient unemployed persons within the union elsewhere in the province. Maybe such jobs have never been available locally or maybe the people have never had the opportunity to belong to a labour union before. I would like to know if the Minister would consider this discrimination against local people by not being allowed to join the union. The union offices are in Vancouver. If they really want to fight their case they have to travel to Vancouver. Shouldn't the union have offices on these local projects if they are going to hire local people? What is the Minister's attitude toward this project? Have you had a chance to survey the information?
HON. MR. KING: Yes, Mr. Chairman, I have had an opportunity to have my department investigate the specific project that the Member for South Peace River raised last week. I find, much to my amazement, that there are 80 per cent local people employed on that project. So I find it difficult to understand the Member's concern. I would think that is a most equitable distribution of employment opportunities for local people.
In general terms I do agree with the Member. Historically it has been a problem of trying to find an adequate scope of employment for local people when projects are undertaken, particularly by the government or Crown agencies, in local areas.
I certainly encountered the same kind of problem that the Member for South Peace River is talking about when the Mica dam contract was awarded some years ago. I was disappointed at that time that while the government was able to negotiate a 10-year no-strike pact with the unions involved, they were unable, apparently, to negotiate any minimum provisions for a local manpower content in that huge project.
The Member will also be aware that since this government came to office, we passed what is called the Public Works Fair Employment Act. I believe that the opposition voted against that bill.
MR. J.R. CHABOT (Columbia River): That's right.
HON. MR. KING: But under that bill we now have the statutory authority to provide that as a condition of awarding direct government contracts, or Crown agency contracts — with three exceptions of school districts, hospitals and municipal contracts — my office is empowered to require a reasonable percentage of local manpower. So that's the first statutory provision and authority that has ever
[ Page 3195 ]
prevailed in this province, to my knowledge, to ensure that the interests of local people are protected in terms of giving them an opportunity to participate in the development of their local resources and so on. This had some impact, as the Member can appreciate, when we signed the very contract he referred to; it has 80 per cent local people employed in it.
I'd just like to observe that this is hardly the appropriate vote to discuss that. This deals with the Labour Relations Board, and they have no such authority. That authority flows from the office of the Minister of Labour.
MR. PHILLIPS: Mr. Chairman, the Minister says that this is not the place to discuss that. I think I've already outlined in the purpose of the board that they have jurisdiction over trade unions and they also have jurisdiction over the Labour Code which says that every employee is free to become a member of a trade union and participate in its lawful activities. So I think it is the proper place to discuss it because it definitely comes under the Labour Relations Board. But after the Minister makes his little political speech, then he says we can't discuss it any more — he's had the final say.
I realize that there are maybe 80 per cent local people employed on this project, but percentages don't always tell the true story. As the Minister full well knows, there are many mediocre jobs — cutting bush, filling up gas cans, being a water boy and so forth. But the cushy jobs that people are qualified for, like driving the big Caterpillar tractors — the high paying jobs — what percentage of those are local people? That's that I'm complaining about. I don't care if it's 99 per cent. If I have local people who are complaining to me about not being able to become a member of this union, I don't think you should just gloss it over, Mr. Minister. One individual, in my estimation, is important to me. It may not be important to the Minister of Labour. Individuals may not be important to the Minister of Labour, but they're certainly more important to me, Mr. Minister.
HON. MR. KING: Only certain individuals, Mr. Member.
MR. PHILLIPS: Any individual in British Columbia is important to me, Mr. Minister. I represent all political faiths in this Legislature. I represent all political faiths.
The Minister talks about the Public Works Fair Employment Act. Certainly I voted against it in its original form. That's why the Minister changed it, because, as usual, a year later he saw the error of his ways and he said that if the opposition voted against this bill, there must be something wrong with it. So what did he do? The following year he brought in amendments, He said that if the opposition votes against this, there's got to be something drastically wrong.
Now with regard to the Labour Relations Board, Mr. Chairman, through you to the Minister, it's supposed to be a non-political board, and I believe that for all intents and purposes it is. I'm just wondering what right of appeal we have from the Labour Relations Board. It says the Labour Relations Board...the unfair labour practice part of the code imposes other duties on trade unions and employees. The employer's right to run his business efficiently and without the interference of the union organization campaign during working hours are protected by section 4.
Now I'd like to ask the Minister in the case of the Seagram's strike, where that particular business decided that it was going to close down the bottling plant because after two years of trying to get this particular function running smoothly, they found they just couldn't make it pay. And I'm not in love with Seagram's but I'm in love with fair practice; what's fair for any little operator has got to be fair to the big operator.
HON. MR. KING: You're in love with the product.
MR. PHILLIPS: No, it has nothing to do with the product.
Mr. Chairman, we have a case here where the Labour Relations Board brought in a ruling that Seagrams couldn't close down their bottling plant, so they had to appeal it. The only place they could appeal was to the Supreme Court of Canada. In the meantime, to comply with the Labour Relations Board ruling, Seagram's paid the employees, kept them on the payroll, but they didn't reopen the bottling plant.
So it's a technical matter. The Labour Relations Board ruled against it. Consequently we not have a lockout — which is really not a lockout at all. The union calls it a lockout, but it's not a lockout. You have 80 people inside this plant on the other phase of the operation who want to work. These people want to work.
They have circulated a petition — the right to work. They have circulated a petition among themselves, signing it saying: "We want the right to work." But because of either the Labour Relations Board or the particular union, these people are being denied the right to work. I just have to ask the Minister: what appeal do you have from the Labour Relations Board?
I consider, from the information I have gained, that here is the Labour Relations Board making a decision with regard to how a company shall run its business. I think that if the Labour Relations Board is going to function and be respected, both by labour
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and management, it's got to be unbiased and can't work for any one particular union. I'm not saying they did in this case, but I'd just like to have the Minister.... Here's a case in point. I don't know whether it's still before the courts or not, but I'd just like to have the Minister's comments on it. Please, Mr. Minister, don't be political; just tell it as it is.
HON. MR. KING: I certainly wouldn't want to break any traditions in this House, Mr. Chairman, and become political. (Laughter.) I think the pillars would shake and crumble if anyone indulged in political comment within these sanctified chambers. That would be far from my purpose.
MR. PHILLIPS: Well, forget your....
HON. MR. KING: Mr. Chairman, the Member talked about the Public Works Fair employment Act and the rights of people to join trade unions. Nothing has changed in that regard with respect to the laws that obtained during the Social Credit regime regarding the right of trade unions to limit the number of people they would allow into their unions. That is so particularly in the construction industry. As the Member well knows, there is a hiring-hall practice in the construction industry and there is no tenure of seniority between employee and employer. So the union members are dispatched from a union hiring hall and take their turn on a rotation basis and available jobs. Consequently the union is responsible for providing adequate work for their roster of workers, and they are naturally interested that that roster does not become so large that they deprive members of 20 years standing of reasonably frequent work opportunities.
Now to demand — and I'm not suggesting the Member would demand this, perhaps he didn't understand.... But if we said to them through law, "Look, you must let into your union every individual who makes application," why, that would result in a surplus of workers in any given craft, carpenters or whatever, to the extent that very few of them would be making a living wage. So I think the Member understands that problem.
However, there are arrangements that can be made for local work projects. The union can provide work permits out of recognition of the right of local people to participate in local projects, and they frequently do. I receive pretty good cooperation from industry, from the contractors and from most unions in that respect. Occasionally we have a difference of opinion, as sometimes even occurs in this House.
MR. PHILLIPS: Then you lay the wood on.
HON. MR. KING: Oh, occasionally we do that too. I regret having made that comment in this House, because there's been a marked absence of any visits from the opposition people ever since I made that remark in this House. I want to assure you that you're always welcome.
With respect to the Labour Relations Board and the decision on Seagram's, this Legislature is not really a review of specific cases that are adjudicated by the Labour Relations Board. We can certainly review the legislation and the authority vested in them, but I wouldn't want to get into the position of reviewing evidence that's placed before the board upon which they base their adjudication. I think that would be improper, and I think the Members would agree.
Now whatever the evidence was in the Seagram's case, the board found in its wisdom that Seagram's closure was not an ordinary management function of cutting back on their operation. But the board found according to the evidence that the company had in fact sought to place pressure on the union by indulging in what, in effect, was a lockout. Therefore they ordered that that plant be reopened and the workers re-employed.
There is a case before the courts on it. Therefore I wouldn't want to precipitate another debate on the ultra vires concept at this time. (Laughter.)
Be that as it may, I think it is interesting to note, when the Member talks about right to work.... That's an epithet that's becoming more closely associated with spokesmen from across the floor. Perhaps it's an unfortunate choice, I don't know.
MR. CHABOT: These men are demanding the right to work.
HON. MR. KING: I know who the spokesmen are for the right to work, also. But "the right to work" is a bit of an elusive or improper name, in my view.
However, that case is before the courts and, subject to the finding of the courts, will determine whether or not the board exceeded their authority, as the Member suggests. So we have to be content with that at the moment.
MR. PHILLIPS: The Minister again proceeded to discuss the case to say it shouldn't be discussed. I think we have a case here where the other people in that particular plant should have an appeal to the Labour Relations Board. There are 80 people there who want to work and demand the right to work. If you have....
MR. WALLACE: You've said that already.
MR. PHILLIPS: Yes, and I'll say it again — I'll say it again, Mr. Member. If the right to work bothers you, I'm sorry it offends you. But here are 80 people who demand the right to work; it's a dispute within a
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union. Does the Labour Relations Board have jurisdiction over that? You have 62 people on the outside keeping 80 people on the inside out of work. Where does the Labour Relations Board come into that? I say that according to their report it comes under their jurisdiction — where it is the rights of the individuals in the case of....
HON. MR. KING: Sit down and I'll tell you.
MR. PHILLIPS: Just a minute until I finish, Mr. Minister. I don't wish to be discourteous to the Hon. Minister, but I have another point which might have some bearing on your discussion.
The particular union has sent out a memorandum to all of its workers saying that "all employed members on wage indemnity, on workers' compensation or unemployment insurance are required to contribute 10 per cent of earnings from June 2 until further notice. A handful of members have yet to donate from the period March 2 to April 14 and are again requested to do so."
Here's a union because of this dispute in this one particular plant saying to those who are still working in other jurisdictions: "We want you to cough up 10 per cent." Where is the Labour Relations Board...? Is that not infringing on the rights of individuals? They still pay their union dues. Is this not infringing on the right of an individual? I think if I were in a labour union and because of some possibly poor ruling by the Labour Relations Board had to give up 10 per cent of my wages, particularly in the summertime when I want to go on vacation...
HON. G.R. LEA (Minister of Highways): He's be a shop steward.
MR. PHILLIPS: ...and want that little extra bit of extra money to barbecue and maybe buy the odd case of beer.... And here the union comes around and says: "Here, I need that 10 per cent because we're in a dispute over here." Is that not infringing on the rights of those individual members?
I remember one time not long ago when the school teachers were asked to give in 10 per cent for political purposes, but that's gone past. They realize they made an error....
MR. PHILLIPS: Yes, they realize they made a mistake now; they've all changed their direction, or they're changing gradually.
I'd just like to know what the Minister feels. If we're going to have the Labour Relations Board, I think they must be fair not only to business and unions, but they must respect the rights of individuals. This is what bothers me. The right of one individual must be supreme; we cannot crush the right of any individual in our society.
MR. PHILLIPS: Everybody must reign supreme. The Minister tries to give the impression that he is so fair. I'd like to hear his comments on this practice.
HON. MR. KING: Mr. Chairman, I agree with the Hon. Member that we must pay close attention to the individual rights and liberties of people in this province, workers, all citizens. That's why, Mr. Chairman, we eliminated such statutes as those under Bill 43, the Trade-union Act, which interfered with the right of workers to disseminate information to discuss matters in dispute. We viewed that to be an unacceptable invasion and interference with workers' rights to express their opinions in free society. I agree with the Hon. Member that that's unacceptable.
Under the new Labour Code, Mr. Chairman, we also provided a requirement, a duty of fair representation, to all trade unions and to all employer groups in this province, so that if any member feels that his rights within the organization have been abridged in any way he has the option and the right to appeal to the Labour Relations Board. As an MLA of this House I would hope that all Members would be adequately conversant with the law to advise people who complain to them that they should appeal to the Labour Relations Board if they feel that their rights have been abridged in some way.
I find it curious that the Member suggests that we enter into the private domain of a voluntary legal organization — a trade union — and attempt to restrict the calls they may make upon their members for dues to finance a specific strike or a specific dispute. The churches ask us to tithe. Even some political parties go out....
MR. PHILLIPS: They don't lay the wood on you if you don't.
HON. MR. KING: Even some political parties go out.... Mind you, not all the political parties have the support of J.V. and people like that to give assists. I think it's a bit of a dangerous advocacy to suggest that we should start regulating the internal affairs of trade unions, of fraternal organizations, of churches, and so on. If they are undemocratic and they abridge individual rights, there is recourse. Anyone who makes such a claim has....
MR. PHILLIPS: You're being political.
HON. MR. KING: No, I'm not being political at all. I say it is more appropriate than making general condemnations.
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MR. PHILLIPS: I gave a specific case.
HON. MR. KING: If there is a specific case, that case should be adjudicated on the evidence and on its merit. There is an appropriate place for that to take place and that is the Labour Relations Board. But there must be a complaint. That is fundamental in all law. They are quite free to do that, Mr. Chairman.
MR. A.V. FRASER (Cariboo): As somebody said, the Minister is doing a good job of skating around things here today. On the right I to work, I would just like to say a few words. The Member for South Peace River (Mr. Phillips) apparently has cases and so have I. I wouldn't be here this morning relating this case if the Minister would only answer his mail. I don't think this Minister has much to do. I can't understand why he doesn't answer his mail. He has a large staff. In any case, I want to make this as brief as possible.
This is a letter that I received from a lady who is the wife of the individual involved. She says here that:
"For the last two years my husband has been working non-union for Price Bros. construction of Prince George on road construction, for the Department of Highways, operating a 621 earth mover scraper. Price Bros. were contracted by the Department of Highways to work on the various roads in the interior, in the Cariboo, as well as the Hart Highway north of Prince George. This particular person was laid off on November 8, 1974 because of winter conditions and was told that his job would be available on May 15, 1975.
"There were a total of nine operators on the job last year, three union and six non-union. Approximately two weeks before the job was over, representatives of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115, came on the job to get the non-union men to sign up with 115. The job was just about to an end because of winter setting in and because Price Bros. had told the men they didn't want to be certified just then, the men turned 115 down. Only one man signed to go into the union.
"This spring, in order to get work for the machines" — that is, Mr. Price's machines — "he had to get certified. On April 18, Mr. Price signed a letter of intent to Local 115. A couple of days later, my husband went to Prince George to apply to get into 115 and was turned down. They claim he would not make a good union man. This was said about a man who belonged to the IWA for at least 15 years, the 602 Labourers' Union for four years, for a total of 25 years in the labour market. He has never been fired off any job he ever had and has never had any trouble with any employer."
The upshot of it all, Mr. Chairman, to the Minister, is that:
"Price Bros. has a job waiting for my husband but he can't go to work because 115 at Prince George decreed that he could not work at a job of his own choosing. The 115 did take two employees of Price Bros. One had one and a half days seniority over my husband, the other had one year less. People talk a lot about welfare bums, but what can the ordinary man do when big brother union turns things down on his right to work?
"This letter is written in the hope that something can be done to get a family man back to a job that his employer has waiting for him. It seems to me that one of the freedoms of a Canadian citizen is the right of choice of employment. Yours truly......
Mr. Chairman, the upshot of this is that this man is still not working, but the contractor is at work and he is working in the very neighbourhood that this man lives. I've got to assume that the fellow who is driving the scraper that this man should be driving came from Vancouver or Revelstoke or some place like that. I don't think this is right. I believe I understand from the Minister's reply the last time he was standing on his feet that this should properly be taken up with the Labour Relations Board. This person should take that up. As I say, I've written the Minister. I would like to hear his remarks about it. It seems to me that there is something wrong here when a man on the local scene....
As far as who is paying all of these bills is concerned, the public Treasury is paying these bills. When they bring a man from Vancouver to operate a scraper up in the interior of the province, I suggest that the Highways department and in turn the public Treasury...it is costing them more money. That man is no doubt being paid a living-out allowance where a local man is right at home. There is something definitely wrong when these things happen.
HON. MR. KING: I am rather sensitive to being accused of not answering my mail. I do try to answer my mail. As I recall, I think the Member's letter came in on June 2. That's not very long ago.
MR. FRASER: Oh, quite a while.
HON. MR. KING: The Member appreciates that there has to be an investigation of the facts of a case like this. The Members acknowledged that the individual in question had an opportunity to join the operating engineers union last year and declined. I'm
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uncertain as to whether you're talking about someone who is applying for work as an individual, or whether you're talking about an individual who is a contractor and employs other people. There are variations and the laws are certainly different in those circumstances.
In the first place, if he's an owner-operator employing people, I hope the Member's aware that it's an unfair labour practice for that owner to involve himself in influencing whether or not his employees join a trade union. That is their right: it's up to their free expression of choice as to whether or not they join a trade union. If he is seeking inclusion in the trade union just for himself so he might find a spot in employment up there, then I would just draw to your attention that the union certified for that kind of job has negotiated the wages and the working conditions for that kind of function to the point where it's pretty attractive. I think the Member would have to question, as I would, the right of individuals to pop in and out of the union simply to accommodate a selective opportunity for employment when they want it. What about the people who live with that craft all year round and who have constantly supported the union's activities to improve their working conditions? They have rights too.
I don't know what the specific circumstances are. I understand from the Deputy that a full report is coming in on that case very shortly and that the Member will have his answer very soon, but it's very difficult on the floor of the Legislature to draw a conclusion when one doesn't know all the facts and all the evidence involved in these kinds of cases.
MR. WALLACE: Mr. Chairman, I didn't realize this was the vote where we debated the right to work, but just in case the Member for South Peace River (Mr. Philips) is concerned, I also have a great respect for the individual's right to work. I wouldn't want to be misunderstood on that point.
I wanted to ask more specifically about the Labour Relations Board itself. There has been quite a bit of comment from the B.C. Federation of Labour that the Labour Relations Board is weighted too much in favour of lawyers. This to me is a rather ironic situation because I remember that when we debated the Labour Code after it was introduced the tremendous thrust which the Minister of Labour mentioned all the time, and some of the various areas where he and I were in disagreement, was his great and I'm sure sincere desire to get labour disputes out of the courts and into some other kind of arena. This may have been well advised, just within the last few weeks the B.C. Federation of Labour has expressed its great concern, and I think the words they've used are that the Labour Relations Board's been turned over to the lawyers. In fact, there's a quote here from one of the papers back in April. They had issued a statement saying the trade unions "were extremely concerned at the tendency which has become apparent to turn the board over to the legal profession and enable them to use it to experiment with academic theories about labour-management relations."
I think Len Guy was the main person who was upset about the domination of the Labour Relations Board by lawyers. He said they're not practical enough to be successful in labour relations, and he said that labour-management relations are too complex and delicate in British Columbia, and blunders arising from a well-meaning experiment could have disastrous results. He said lawyers can always be hired to provide a legal background, and he was particularly criticizing the appointment of lawyer John Baigent, and also mentioned that there were several other lawyers. The chairman himself came in for criticism, although he mentioned that he had never practised law, but he certainly had functioned as a law professor in a university.
I don't know how important this is to the successful functioning of the Labour Relations Board. I would imagine that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the board is achieving its functions I personally, as an observer, can't see that it matters whether you're a lawyer or an accountant or a clerk or what you are, if you're on that board because you have some particular experience or expertise or interest or proven capacity to do the job, but if a group in society as important as the B.C. Federation of Labour is uptight about this, I think maybe I'd like to hear the Minister's comments.
I tried to do a little more reading on this, and I gather that one of the reasons the B.C. Federation of Labour is concerned is that these persons they have quoted are chairmen of panels investigating such labour disputes. They feel that the particular influence of the chairman, often in tie breaking votes, is reflected by his legal background. Apparently there is this deep concern.
Now the Minister may be able to clarify for us whether in his mind this is a valid concern and whether, in fact, he's planning to change. I gather there's only one vacancy at the moment on the total board of 18, and that it's the five or six top positions that labour is concerned about.
The only other point I'd like to ask the Minister about is regarding the authority in the Labour Code for the Labour Relations Board to impose a first settlement. Here again, I gather that the B.C. Federation of Labour is not at all happy about that power vested in the board. I think we talked on this at great length over the Sandringham Hospital dispute in the past. I suppose at the present time the ICBC dispute is one where the Labour Relations Board would have the authority to impose a first contract.
As I say, since the B.C. Federation of Labour is a
[ Page 3200 ]
very important group in society, has the Minister met with them to discuss this contentious issue, and to what degree is he prepared to tell us whether or not he's reconsidering the usefulness or otherwise, or the disadvantages, of having this power to impose a first contract remain in the hands of the Labour Relations Board?
HON. MR. KING: Mr. Chairman, dealing with the last point first. I'm not receptive to changing the first-contract provision; I think it is proving to be very useful. I'm aware that the B.C. Federation of Labour, as well as some other unions, condemn it publicly. I think their fear is mainly related to the fact that this is a limited form of arbitration, and perhaps in that sense it's threatening in the broader field. I do not see it that way and, apparently, most of the individual trade unions do not see it that way either because many, many of them are making application for the use of the first-contract provision. I think we've had something like 29 applications for the imposition of a first collective agreement. Something like that.
MR. WALLACE: By unions?
HON. MR. KING: Yes. And one by management. But we use this in an extremely selective way. It cannot be initiated by the Labour Relations Board; rather it must be initiated from my office. I must be convinced that the motive for application is a genuine one in terms of the collective bargaining system having broken down and there being little prospect for resolution through the normal collective bargaining process. It's designed basically for the instance where an employer refuses to recognize the legally certified new unit, and, in effect, circumvents the intent of the law which was, through certification, to give those employees the right to bargain.
The board also has been extremely selective, and in most cases has been able to use the authority it holds to bring about a negotiated settlement. I think only in four or five total cases have they actually imposed the first collective agreement, so one can see that it's used very selectively. I think that's working quite well.
As I say, all of the major unions, some of which had publicly condemned the philosophy of it, are quite prepared to use it when it serve their purpose.
MR. WALLACE: Like talking against a bill, and then voting for it.
HON. MR. KING: That's right.
The question of the content of the board: yes, the B.C. Federation of Labour has criticized the number of lawyers on the board, and a number of unions have. But I note that when most of those unions appear before the board, they have their lawyer in tow. If they're so uptight about lawyers involved in industrial relations, perhaps they could start demonstrating that they're willing to show that there should be less of a reliance on lawyers by leaving theirs home when they appear before the board and other agencies.
However, be that as it may, my main concern is that we are establishing a new concept of law, and an administrative body of law has to be set up surrounding the functions and the decisions of the board. Many of them are precedent-setting, not only in terms of the new code but certainly in terms of new industrial relations concepts anywhere in Canada. We have to ensure that there's a consistent body of law built up which is systematically and judiciously pursued in future cases. So I think it is important to have some legal people involved in the process at this particular time.
What I said to that Hon. Member, I stand by. I do not think the courts are the most appropriate because they are dealing with strictly the legal aspects of it. We do, with these panels, have labour and management people; many of them still actively involved, but sitting as board members.
It's interesting to note that only in one or two decisions, out of the hundreds that board has issued, has there been a dissent. Pretty nearly every one of them has been a unanimous award by the board. But it is important in terms of how the decisions are written, so that they become the basis for establishing precedent that will give the board consistency in future in similar cases. I do anticipate that at a point in the future perhaps there should be fewer lawyers involved in the process. But at this stage I think it's important to have that additional input to the system.
MR. SMITH: It's been an interesting discussion this morning concerning labour relations. I'd just like to bring to the attention of the Minister a problem that's been related to me. It concerns a company in Vancouver which started business in 1951. It's a family company employing a father, a number of sons and a couple of relatives initially. They manufacture pallets — wooden containers and pre-cut pallets — for the waterfront. The company is Consumer Pallet Ltd. of Vancouver. For a long time they operated as a non-union company and then, as happens, the union consistently comes in to suggest that they should become a union company, certified. IWA was mainly involved in the transactions.
I don't think there's any doubt about it that the company preferred to remain non-union, because they were a family company, started in 1951. But finally they saw that in order to operate and be able to continue in business and move their products into
[ Page 3201 ]
union shops and so on they would probably have to submit to union certification.
Now the struggle started in September of 1974. At that time the company was picketed by a far greater number of picketers than they had employed as employees inside the plant. There were abusive tactics involved, and some assault charges were laid because of some of the people involved becoming abusive towards their employees in the plant. It finally seemed that they would have to submit to the union request for certification. But one of the conditions at that time imposed upon the company by the union was that when they got this all squared away, in exchange for removing pickets from the plant and accepting union certification, the company would drop all charges against any of the people involved in the picketing process. That was part of the suggestion made to the company by the union representatives: that they drop all charges. So this was done and any employees involved were automatically reinstated at that time so that they could get beyond this impasse. After all, how can a company operate if they are being picketed and harassed and when it looks like the only solution is to cooperate with the union or go out of business? That's the choice they faced.
A mediator was appointed by the Labour Relations Board and over a number of meetings came to some decisions concerning certification. A number of verbal commitments were made by both the employer and the mediation officer representing the Department of Labour in this particular dispute. They did come to a verbal agreement as to how they would overcome this impasse. Unfortunately, when the ruling came down, and the agreement that was put to them was drafted in written form, it didn't obtain a number of the points they had covered initially in their discussions with the mediation officer. The company, of course, was concerned about that because they felt they had bargained at least verbally in good faith at that particular time, and there were things that were very important to them that the agreement did not contain — and other things they had never agreed to.
At about the same time, they were still involved in internal problems within the plant regarding themselves as managers and some of their employees. It turned out that they found no other way to overcome this problem than to fire one particular employee. They found, once the Labour Relations Board had met and handed down a decision, that not only did they have to adhere to the union's position, but they weren't being charged with social discrimination and illegally firing an employee. So that went against them.
It's also interesting to note that in the initial instances of certification the IWA representative knew about the certification before the employer did. They had a phone call, as a matter of fact, from a representative of the union saying: "You're certified." They said: "How do you know?" They said: "We know." Sure enough, a day or so later they were informed of the certification, but IWA knew about it before they'd even been informed, as employers. So that didn't sit too well with them.
It's also interesting to note that the three men who sat on the Labour Relations Board as a committee, as a Labour Relations Board, were the same three that sat on the union application for certification. They felt that this was unusual at least, that it would probably have been better had the Labour Relations Board appointed to that inquiry team people who had not originally been involved in the request for certification.
They were charged, and a writ was issued charging them with breaking their agreement with the union. They were required not only to reinstate the employee who had been responsible for a lot of their problems in the first place but to reinstate everyone else who had lost any time and pay them all back-pay as if they had been fully employed during this time.
Now the thing I would like to pose to the Minister is this: without taking any sides, either for the union as represented by IWA or for the company, it would seem that the least that could happen would be a reinvestigation of the whole situation by the Labour Relations Board. The company would like to know what procedure they have or that they can follow. I think that perhaps they should appeal the decision of the Labour Relations Board and the ruling that was handed down. But there's a feeling among the management personnel of the company that all they're going to do is increase their problem if they appeal a decision of the Labour Relations Board.
If that is that state of affairs between management and union and the Labour Relations Board, as they view this whole problem, then it's a sorry state indeed, Mr. Minister. I hope we have not come to the point in the problems in this field in British Columbia that a firm trying to solve an impasse feels that an appeal on their part against a decision they are convinced was not fair to their side of the story would result in additional harassment and perhaps striking their premises or picketing it and preventing them from working.
Some of the instances that were related to me, although I can't confirm them, are the type that we hear too often and too frequently. For instance, the plant is highly industrialized — there's a lot of machinery in there. There's a large electrical circuit feeding the plant from a transformer that had to be installed in order to give them the power they need. I suppose it's all three-phase electrical wiring and large motors. But during the dispute, that whole service line suddenly was torn out one night. Machinery was damaged in the plant beyond repair. Now these sorts of things are the type of harassment that that
[ Page 3202 ]
company was involved in, and they are concerned that it could happen again.
I would ask the Minister to review that particular case and see if they have rightful grounds for an appeal, because they are concerned that if they go in that direction, take that course of action, they'll be subjected to the same type of problems that they were involved in and their plant was involved in about a year ago.
That's one family company. Another company came to me not too long ago. It's not a company really but two people, two brothers, who are involved as.... Well, they're ceramic contractors. They do ceramic tile work. They're artisans, two Italians who immigrated to Canada some years ago. They have a specific skill that's in high demand, particularly for some of the buildings going up where ceramic tile will be part of the process in a number of the rooms. They're called upon frequently. I don't think they've ever been short of work, because of the skill they have. They're not union. They hire no crew. There are only two of them, and they wonder why they should have to form a union shop when there are only two of them ever involved — two brothers who have worked together for years. Yet, of course, you know what happens when they go onto a union job. Harassment takes place and suggestions that if they don't join the union then things will be very difficult for them indeed.
I could see some sense in them becoming a union shop if it was a substantially sized company. But is there nothing in the Labour Code that would exclude such a small firm? They are two brothers doing the job they know how to do, and doing it well. They tell me they never hire any help; it's just the two of them working together, as they have for years. Is there no reasoned way that they can be excluded if they choose not to become a union, and yet not subject themselves to harassment on union jobs? It would seem that if they were a larger firm, yes, there would be grounds for it. If they are forced to, I guess they will probably go union. But at the present time, in the situation they are in, they are able to accept employment wherever it is available to them. I would like the Minister to comment on those two particular situations.
HON. MR. KING: I have mixed emotions about responding, Mr. Chairman. The Member apparently doesn't understand the law with respect to certification. The Members on that side of the House admonish me and give me lectures about individual rights and freedoms.
HON. MR. KING: Thank you. Then perhaps you'll be consistent enough to recognize that it's the right of employees to make their decision as to whether they wish to be represented by a trade union or not. They have that right, free from any interference by the employer. It's an unfair labour practice for an employer to engage in intimidation, coercion and interference with that democratic right of his employees.
MR. SMITH: What happens when there's harassment?
HON. MR. KING: In fact, Mr. Chairman, in the particular and the unfortunate case which the Member has chosen to raise, there was, indeed, an unfair labour practice charge filed against the employer during the organizational. campaign. The employer was convicted in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, and an order was issued restraining him from further interference.
There were incidents on the picket line, with charges and counter-charges made by the employees and the employer. There was an incident in the plant after one of the union members had been dismissed — that was the basis of the unfair labour practice charge — where the employer actually beat quite seriously one of the employees who was a union member — beat him physically. I am surprised and filled with chagrin that any Member of this Legislature would want to champion the cause of an employer who has conducted himself in that way.
It's ironic that the chairman of the Labour Relations Board panel that sat on the case was an individual who has been associated with management all his life, namely Mr. Ed Peck. He had some choice comments to make regarding the conduct of that employer from a management viewpoint and in terms of how the brothers had conducted themselves.
I had the opportunity to meet them myself, Mr. Chairman. They journeyed to Victoria and met with me in my office, so I know something about them. But the Member did make the statement that the employer had concluded that he would probably have to submit to union certification. I think it's regrettable when Members of this House accept that kind of proposition. It is none of the employer's business whether or not his employees decide that they wish to be represented by a union.
There's a democratic process for arriving at certification. They must convince the majority of the workers in that unit that the union can do something for them. They require 35 per cent of the workers to make application. If they obtain over 50 per cent, they may be certified; if they have less than 50 but 35, a representation vote will be held where the workers in that unit have the right to express their support or their non-support for the union.
For the employer to say blithely, and to hear in this House by Members of the Legislature, that the
[ Page 3203 ]
employer will submit, if he decides in his benevolent way that maybe his workers should be able to express the democratic right — that's appalling. That's illegal! So I suggest that the Member have another look at the case, and have another look at the law respecting the rights of working people in this province.
The whole history of that case is one that I'm surprised anyone would want to associate themselves with. With respect to the notification of the certification going out to the union ahead of the employer, that's really not true. What happens is that both parties have lawyers — the union had a lawyer and the Sharamata brothers, or Consumer Glass, had a lawyer. The board notified both lawyers simultaneously. This is a practice that goes on daily.
But in some cases, one lawyer comes in and picks up the decision and the other one doesn't perhaps until the next day or a couple of days later. But the crucial thing from the board's point of view is when that lawyer is notified. He has his obligations to his client. If he does not choose to pick it up immediately and reveal the contents of that decision to his client, then it certainly is not the board's responsibility. That's the way it flows. There was no differentiation between how the parties were treated in this case.
These cases and the conduct of the parties have been ruled on on the basis of the evidence submitted. Both the Labour Relations Board and the Supreme Court of B.C. drew conclusions which I certainly can't argue with. I haven't had an opportunity to view the evidence, but in light of their conclusions and in light of the violence that was visited upon one of the workers in that plant who happened to be an East Indian immigrant who was perhaps a bit concerned and intimidated when it came to his right to exercise his options, not being all that familiar with the language and not being all that familiar with his rights under law in Canada, I can see where he went through a pretty traumatic experience. Not only was he dismissed, he was beaten up. I can't find any tears in my eyes or compassion in my heart for the plight of that poor, struggling, little free enterprise group. The view he holds of his workers sounds to me like the chattels of old.
MR. SMITH: It is fairly obvious that the Minister, in replying, chooses to champion the cause of the worker. That is fine, but he completely ignores the other side of the particular firm and the incidents which involve physical abuse to Mrs. Sharamata by the very employee who was, apparently, beat up by a very large, physical man — one of the Sharamata brothers.
HON. MR. KING: That was never proved.
MR. SMITH: Well, you see, you choose to champion the cause of one person who was involved in the physical incident, but there were a number of people on both management and labour side. This is a very volatile type of situation which came about probably as a result of people on both sides becoming very, very uptight in the situation that has existed there.
I understand Mrs. Sharamata, who is not a young person, was subjected to abuse in the office. One of the young lads stepped in — a lad in his teens. He was subjected to physical abuse as well. It was when they got to that point that there was retaliation, I guess from both sides. Let's not just paint a white picture of one particular segment of this particular problem and the other side of it all black. I am suggesting to the Minister that from the conversations that I have had and the reports that I have read there is probably justification for the employer, if he so desires, to require or request an appeal. One of the reasons that they say they hesitate to do that is that they feel that they would only be subjecting themselves to a reoccurrence of the same type of harassment situation that the whole crew and company was involved in before. That shouldn't happen. There should be a right of recourse for both union and management in that situation if they so desire.
HON. MR. KING: I would just like to make this observation. It is not my purpose or intention to make a judgment. There is a difference between what the Member is saying and the position I am taking. I'm taking a position based on the conclusions reached by either (a) the Labour Relations Board, which viewed and scrutinized the evidence through hearings and arrived at decisions and (b) the Supreme Court of British Columbia. I know there were conflicting allegations and charges regarding Mr. Sharamata's mother and the worker who was beaten up, but I am simply going by the conclusions and adjudications that were made by those agencies. That does not involve showing a bias or preference for the workers in terms of the evidence. I think the Member should recognize that distinction. If he wants to appeal the case on behalf of the Sharamata brothers to the Labour Relations Board or the courts he is, of course, free to do so. They are the ones who came to those conclusions, not me.
Vote 124 approved.
Vote 125: salary contingencies, $1,893,827 — approved.
ESTIMATES: DEPARTMENT OF HIGHWAYS
On vote 93: Minister's office, $138,690 — continued.
[ Page 3204 ]
MR. FRASER: Mr. Chairman, I have been waiting for a year to have something to say to this Minister and his department. The highways in the province are all falling apart and he doesn't even seem to realize that. I think we're going to get in serious trouble if we don't get something done.
Dealing with the Minister's office, I have a few questions to ask there. I'd like to know why this Minister isn't doing anything about highways. He's got two executive assistants to help him do nothing. That's the first thing I'd like to ask.
Regarding the total highway budget, Mr. Chairman — and I know that you'll be interested in this because you represent a large rural riding just like myself — this budget we're dealing with here is an amount of $275 million, and it represents 9 per cent of the total budget of the Province of British Columbia. Believe me, Mr. Chairman, in no way can we keep up to the demands that are made on our highway system with this kind of allocation from the total budget. While $275 million is a lot of money, in relation to the total budget it is not very much. As I explained, it's just 9 cents out of every dollar this government has in this budget. There's no way this Minister or his department can keep up with the ever-increasing traffic volumes on our highways and byways. Consequently we are seeing a deterioration of these roads all over the province — and I'm not talking about.... I believe that about 10 per cent of the highways in the province are paved; the other 90 per cent are gravel surface.
What I'm concerned with this morning, Mr. Chairman, are the main roads: Highway 1, Highway 97.... You know, by this fall, Mr. Chairman, we're liable to be running on more gravel on these roads — gravel surface — than we are paved surface, because they're blowing up all over. No. 1 has blown up and has been patched up. They spend all summer patching up the holes that were created in the winter and the spring. They have a different excuse every year as to why this happens, but this is not the answer at all. The answer is to build these roads so that these things won't happen, and certainly to a better degree than is going on right now.
In this budget, maintenance is up from $69 million to $105 million. There have been big salary increases in this department, like other departments, and I don't decry this fact. But, quite frankly, Mr. Chairman, the increase here will not even look after the salary increases that have been awarded to the personnel of the Department of Highways, let alone put more graders out and more maintenance machinery and road-building, and so on. So really we're going to go behind from 1974 in actual work and improvements, and this is what alarms me. All you have to do is do a little driving to ascertain that this is a fact right at this present time.
You know, right now, Mr. Chairman, to the Minister and his staff, I can foresee that this fall we will have highway truck drivers, grader operators and machine operators getting their salaries, which they deserve, but they won't be able to operate the equipment they're hired to work on because there won't even be any money in this maintenance vote to supply the fuel to operate the vehicles. I think this is a ridiculous situation.
I really think that the Minister of Finance (Hon. Mr. Barrett) gave a snow-job to the Minister of Highways at the Treasury Board level when last November, December, January — whenever it was — he accepted the kind of funds that are involved in this budget to look after the thousands and thousands of miles of public roads and cow trails that are still gazetted as public, because in no way can this Minister and his department look after these large problems.
There's another thing I'd like to hear from the Minister. I hope that he will have a few things to say under his estimates. I believe last year it came up regarding the fact that always in the past, Mr. Chairman, the Province of British Columbia has been divided up into four regional areas for highways purposes. I know this Minister was sympathetic in breaking down this large area. In my riding, for instance, I have to deal with two regional highway engineers. But I feel sorry for the regional highway engineer in region 4, because he has to administer from central British Columbia up to the north B.C. boundary, over to the Queen Charlotte Islands and over to the B.C.-Alberta boundary. No one person should have that large responsibility — and also a lot of roads.
So I would like to know what the Minister's doing, or has done, regarding breaking down these four regional districts into some more and better administrative organization. I understand that there has been a new highway district announced in my riding, but I'm really concerned about the total province. In other words, how are we coming along in, say, creating eight regional districts instead of four, which will, I think, bring better service to everyone involved and take the load off these four regional districts that now really have too heavy a load, in my opinion.
Under the budget of this Minister, Mr. Chairman, the capital construction budget is up from $110 million to $140 million. This, Mr. Chairman, won't even take care of the cost of inflation. I would like to hear the Minister say that it must be the fact that this year there'll be less road contracts let than were let in 1974; and in 1974 they let about 40 per cent of the contracts that should have been let if we're going to keep on keeping up with the ever-increasing load on our highways and the deterioration of them.
I would also like to hear from the Minister, Mr. Chairman.... He is also an MLA, and I was in part of his riding last year; I'm referring to the Queen
[ Page 3205 ]
Charlotte Islands. There's a very adequate little ferry system there. There is a lot of controversy going on about this now. As it is in the Minister's own riding, I'd like to hear from him what he's got to say about it, because just this weekend in the paper — and I'll quote a few items, here — regarding this ferry that connects the two larger islands in the Queen Charlottes...and which, by the way, I rode on last summer:
"The operator of a government-subsidized ferry system between the two main islands of the Queen Charlottes says the government is using stalling tactics to keep him maintaining the service until it is taken over in December." I assume taken over by the Department of Highways.
"Garth Mannering of Delta, director of Misty Islands Transportation Company, said he's placing little faith in a panic phone call he received from an Assistant Deputy Minister in the Highways department last week. Mannering would not disclose the official's name but said he was told that government hadn't realized what was going on, and its actions in the takeover are not the way the government planned on operating.
"Mannering charged in May the government was putting him out of business without compensation. On Friday, he said the government official told him he would get back to him after a meeting about the takeover. But Mannering added he was sceptical that the official would do so. 'It's just a-tactic to make me keep providing service while the government consolidates its own position,' he said. 'It's just buying time.'
"Unless the government comes up with a satisfactory alternative by June 15th he'll give the required 30-day notice and phase out the ferry system by mid-July. Mannering said he has offered to lease or purchase most of his ferry equipment. 'The ferry system will be kept going for the required 30 days,' he said, 'but alternative and possibly smaller equipment may be used if the regular facilities are sold or leased out before the period ends.'
" 'The takeover,' he charged, 'is a political gesture on the part of Highways Minister Graham Lea, who is MLA for the area.' "
I'd like the Minister to answer that charge, if in fact this is right.
" 'Government operation of the system makes no economic sense,' he said, 'because it will cost more than $2 million in capital expenditure to take it over and $600,000 a year to operate. The government will lose about $400,000 a year in the system,' he predicted.
"The takeover first was mentioned in 1972 and in 1973 Lea
and Municipal Affairs Minister
Jim Lorimer were involved in a government offer to buy him out. Since then he has been getting the runaround from the government, and six months ago he decided to take things into his own hands and get out of the marine business.
"His firm's pullout will have an adverse affect on logging companies in the area, and they depend on it, he said. He predicted two logging companies employing a total of 120 men would have to close down. The operation of a third would become marginal.
" 'But there's not enough business to have $200,000 worth of marine equipment sitting around to supply just the logging camps. The ferries used are landing barges pushed by a tug,' he explained."
Mr. Chairman, they are quite a unique deal. As I said, I rode on it last summer.
" 'When they aren't doing ferry runs they are used to supply
logging camps. The firm also operates a number of other
transportation facilities in the area, including a bus system,
a U-drive outfit, water taxis,' he went on. 'The bus system
might have to be phased out because it has never made money.
But,' Mannering added, 'the company will maintain the U-drive
business and all its contracts with....' "
So I'd like to hear the Minister, when he gets an opportunity, to reply to those charges that, according to this gentleman, this Minister is gerrymandering this for political reasons because he is the MLA for that area.
The other thing, Mr. Chairman, that I'd like to hear from the Minister today is about day-labour money allocations. We've already lost two months of good construction time in the Province of British Columbia, and it appears from the department in Victoria that they've issued orders to everybody in the areas in the interior that they don't know what the day-labour allocation is, and consequently no roadwork has commenced — or some has and some hasn't.
I'd like to know what instructions the Minister issued to withhold the day-labour allocations. As far as I'm concerned, they're still withheld. As I said, we've already lost two months of good working time. I'm not too worried that the announcements will come, and the money will be allocated just about the time it starts to snow and freeze up. In that way, of course, no roadwork will be achieved, or certainly not to the amount that could be achieved. I can't understand why this department isn't ready to go when the roadwork and the weather is right, say the first of April. As I say, we've lost a little over two months now and we'll probably get into the rainy season and then snow.
[ Page 3206 ]
I really think, Mr. Chairman, that it's being done on purpose to save money, money they haven't got. That's why they haven't been able to release the day labour allocations. And when I say day labour allocations, I'm not talking about major contracts, because there's hardly any of them going on in the whole Province of British Columbia. You can count those on one hand. But day labour is where men and equipment are hired on a day-by-day basis, the job is supervised by the Department of Highways, and you get some good, permanent work done. As of today, they really haven't got any of this going.
The other thing in here is the allocation for new equipment. I've said this ever since I've been an MLA, and there are two or three things I'd like to know about the equipment vote which last year was $8 million; this year it's up to $11 million. I would just like to say that I'm sure happy to see it going up, but I have two questions.
I'd like to know if the $8 million was spent last year. If not, what excuses have they got for not spending it — such as placing orders, not getting delivery and so on? If the $8 million was spent, I'd like to know what it was spent on — trucks, bulldozers, graders, what quantities of equipment did they acquire? On the $11 million that we're discussing, I'd like to know what their intent is there. How many pieces of equipment and what type do they intend to get for that kind of money? Because of inflation, equipment has probably tripled in cost just in the last three years, so, of course, we have to keep up with the money allocations. But I would like to know because the Department of Highways cannot do the work without the tools, and in this case, without the purchase of equipment. Those are the tools they require to do the maintenance work that is so very necessary.
I want to get into the details of the riding later on, but I'd like to know about the Lillooet repair shop which has always irked me from an economic standpoint.
They have to haul a broken down machine up to 150 miles to a place called Lillooet which is away off the beaten stream. The machines that do the service to Highways 1 and 97, when they have any problem they have to be low-bedded and trucked over to Lillooet. I understand this is an antiquated shop. I'd like to know what the Minister is doing about upgrading that shop.
I've spoken on this before, and he said: "Oh yes, all you're trying to do is kill the biggest payroll that Lillooet's got." I'm not trying to do that; I'm trying to put some common sense into some of the engineers' heads. There's a waste of money in hauling this equipment back and forth. For even a flat tire on a grader, they haul it 300 miles so they can fix the flat tire. This is coming out of Highway money votes that should be going for that machine to be properly grading the roads.
I think that a highway establishment should be established out on the main road closer to the area than Lillooet is. Let Lillooet go on and look after a certain area, but I think we have to have more service centres closer to where the action is. I refer to Highway 1 from Lytton practically right through to Kamloops. These machines that operate on there have to go to Lillooet for maintenance. It doesn't make any sense at all to anybody. I'd like to know what the Minister is going to do along that line.
Thinking of that, there's a really involved procedure to getting a new maintenance building in the highway system. I refer to the fact that the Highways department has to lean on the vacant-office department of the government, and I refer to the Department of Public Works, to call the tenders and build these badly needed maintenance establishments.
There are men in the interior of British Columbia monkey-wrenching and fixing machinery out on the ground at 45 below zero. Since 1969 I've been promised that they would have the proper maintenance buildings. Yes, the prior government...and this one is following the same rut. About three years apiece, equal responsibility — and they've done absolutely nothing. These men in the interior spend every morning until noon getting their equipment started because they haven't got adequate shelter for themselves or the equipment. People are screaming and hollering to have their roads snowploughed and so on in the wintertime, and here they can't even start the equipment that will plough it out.
The Minister knows where I'm talking about — places like Likely, Bridge Lake. All I get is: "Oh sure, that's coming some day." But we've got to change the government twice more before we can have these maintenance establishments. Apart from what they cost....
AN HON. MEMBER: Once more. Once more is enough.
MR. FRASER: Well, once more. It is really important, I'll agree. (Laughter.)
How long have we got to wait with this bunch of nonsense, anyway? That's all it is — straight red-tape bureaucratic nonsense. You waste money by not getting the proper use out of this equipment or the men, and you also lose good men over it....
AN HON. MEMBER: Keep talking.
MR. FRASER: Before we go any further, I'd like to hear a few answers from the Minister, and then we'll get, Mr. Chairman, into the real nitty-gritty.
Before I step down, the riding of Cariboo has
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3,800 miles of publicly gazetted roads, by far the largest in British Columbia. The next riding closest to mine has 1,900 miles of publicly gazetted roads and the average in British Columbia is 1,000 miles. The Second Member for Vancouver-Little Mountain (Mr. Cummings) hasn't got any at all, and it's a lucky thing for Vancouver–Little Mountain that there are no highways there when they have that Member to scream for highways for them.
Anyway, because of this fact, Mr. Chairman, I have no end of highway problems all the time.
I'm waiting for the Member for Mackenzie (Mr. Lockstead) to get up here and support me here this morning....
MR. CHABOT: Where is he?
MR. FRASER: Well, I don't know where he is. He was here.
But in the riding of Cariboo we have that famous road, Highway 20 from Williams Lake to Bella Coola. Mr. Chairman, I want the Minister to know that 260 miles of the 300 miles of this road are in the riding of Cariboo. The other 40 miles are in the riding of Mackenzie. There's a real game going on here. The Member for Mackenzie gets no end of complaints from his constituents at Bella Coola and he refers them all to me regarding the roads. (Laughter.) There is a little game being played here.
I'd like to know, while we're on that subject, and the Member for Mackenzie would like to know what you are going to do about improving that road, because nothing's happened to it for a number of years. As I say, there are sections of Highway 20, an important link from the interior to the coast, where the rocks are even worn out. The rocks are worn out! There's no road left. I'd like to know, as we get into detail later on towards the end of the week, under your estimates, what you are going to do about important links like that.
This time I got an assist from the back bench of the NDP. I know this Minister, Mr. Chairman, needs the support of every backbencher he can get and he hasn't got it. The Member for Mackenzie is real upset about the job he's doing on the roads, and more specifically Highway 20.
With that I'd like to sit down, and I'm sure the Minister's ready before lunch to get up and answer all my questions the way we want them answered.
HON. MR. LEA: Mr. Chairman, I'll try to deal with them one at a time because the Member did skip around from one subject to another.
Dealing first of all with the total budget, he said 9 per cent of the total budget goes to Highways. That's fairly accurate.
MR. FRASER: Everything I said was accurate.
HON. MR. LEA: Not quite. I think what we have to look at is the kind of spending that this government is doing in terms of total transportation. Every other jurisdiction is going into total transportation as a package. If you want to take total transportation in this province and put it all together, I think you'll find that our percentage of the budget will compare with any other jurisdiction.
MR. PHILLIPS: Are the ICBC losses in there too?
HON. MR. LEA: I'll tell you, we're not putting down the pilots of the aircraft as "bulldozer operators" any longer. They're listed as what they are — pilots. Under the previous government, if you wanted to look at the Highways budget you didn't know what was happening, because they had bulldozer operators that were flying...
MR. CHABOT: We were building roads, though.
HON. MR. LEA: You were building roads. You found many things buried within the Highways budget under "maintenance" that were not identified as to what that money was being spent on, such as ferries.
Now let's just take a look at the paving. I am assured, and I've lived in this province all my life....
MR. PHILLIPS: I thought you lived in the Yukon.
HON. MR. LEA: I lived there for eight years.
HON. MR. LEA: Well, all of the good life that I've had was lived here right in B.C.
HON. MR. LEA: MR. Chairman, I'll wait until another Member asks me questions. I can't answer these.
MR. WALLACE: I just have two areas. I've had a great deal of complaint about the Albion to Fort Langley ferry. I wonder if the Minister could give some answers, because the questions are pretty specific. I gather that there's a multiplicity of problems and tremendous delays, People spend hours on a journey because they're delayed on this little ferry. For example, the winches break down on the ramp, I understand.
The biggest problem this person is concerned about is safety. The ferry is employing teenage personnel with no lifeboat or firefighting training. There's been, I gather, an enlargement of the docking facilities and, for whatever reason, the personnel on
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the ship seem to have difficulty docking. This frequently leads to damage to the vehicles.
The other situation that's been mentioned is that the cars are crammed so tightly close to one another on the ferry that sometimes there's just no way that you could get out of your car if there were a fire or any emergency situation. The people in their cars are jammed so close together on this little ferry there's no way they could get out.
As I understand it, the safety regulations read that all vehicles shall be stowed so as the occupants shall have reasonable access to and from their vehicles at all times. Apparently, when some of the personnel on the ferry attempt to maintain this safety regulation, the captain of the vessel gives instructions to get as many cars aboard as possible. As a result, people are literally trapped in their vehicles should there be any serious or sudden need for them to try and escape.
There's been a new hydraulic steering system installed on the ship which, incidentally, I believe is called the T. Laguna. This steering system is proving to be anything but efficient and effective. There's great difficulty, as I say, particularly in docking the vessel. I understand there's at least a rumor that the government is planning to spend quite a few thousand dollars on repairing this or installing another type of steering system. The ship practically runs aground on low tide because dredging is ineffective, or there hasn't been enough dredging.
All in all, several people who use this ferry have asked me to raise this matter and ask the Minister would he.... I understand the Minister is aware of some of the problems I've already raised, but the people who use the ferry regularly have asked if he would not set up a complete inspection, or some system of review of the whole service, not just the specifics I've raised. It seems to me, from what I've been told, that there are mechanical problems, also problems of administration and personnel.
The other quick question I would like to ask the Minister relates to our own area, the capital region. I raised the subject of the Blanshard Street extension when we first debated the Minister's estimates some weeks ago. He has subsequently announced that there has been a change of plan. As far as I can determine, it's very much a change for the better inasmuch as the tunnel that was previously proposed has been abandoned. From what I can read of the new plan, I wonder if the Minister could give answers to one or two questions.
First of all, how many residential properties will be involved in having to be demolished or relocated or in some way seriously interfered with? How many families are faced with the need and the absolute necessity of relocating? I know that there's one factory, the Pitney Bowes plant, built on that site within the last few years. I wonder if the Minister could say if it is involved in having to be moved. To what degree has the Minister's department entered into negotiations? Has the Minister's department entered into negotiations with the residential property owners and commercial concerns such as Pitney Bowes?
The price tag which has been placed on the new Blanshard Street extension plan is $6 million, I believe. I wonder if that $6 million includes the estimates of the property acquisitions that will be involved. Or is the $6 million the approximate estimate for the construction of the highway? There's to be a one-way system of highways in the Vernon-Seymour area. I'd like to know if the $6 million is only for the highway, or does it involve all the residential and commercial acquisition of property?
Another quick question. With the tremendous importance of tourism to the greater Victoria area, has the Minister consulted with the municipalities, at least in a preliminary way, as to what season of the year most of the work will be done, and the possibility of using a winter works programme to the maximum? As perhaps all of us who drive within the capital city know, right now we've got disruptions of one kind or another on several of our highways downtown, particularly Government, with the plans to develop a mall and so on — changes on Wharf Street and so on.
I think it would be catastrophic if any major part of this upheaval and redirection of traffic during construction were to occur in the main summer months. I know that you can't stop and start a project like this that readily, but I wonder to what degree the Minister has discussed with the core municipalities — Saanich particularly — as to when this might be done and to what degree a winter works programme is possible. Does the Minister, in fact, have a figure for total cost including the construction plus acquisition of property?
HON. MR. LEA: Mr. Chairman, on the Blanshard Street network a lot of the specific details such as the number of homes and how many people are going to be dislocated are not at my fingertips. I will bring that in tomorrow with my estimates and give you all the details on the Blanshard Street project.
I can tell you that I think things are working out very satisfactorily for both the city and the department. The staff of the city and my staff have been working closely together to try and come up with a solution, which they did. It was presented to myself. I approved it if the politicians in Saanich approved it, and they have approved it. The plan is satisfactory to both staffs and both political groups. I would hope that it is the plan that will eventually come to fulfilment. I will bring you the details in tomorrow.
There are problems with the Albion ferry. The
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problems started in 1972. Six weeks before the last provincial election the tolls were taken off that ferry. This put a great demand on the ferry that wasn't there before. I've also asked my department to contact the Hon. Member for Langley (Mr. McClelland). I don't know whether they have done that yet but I have asked them to so that he can also give me a report back from his vantage point as the MLA.
The ferry itself runs under MOT regulations. The points that you raise I will certainly check out. There are a limited amount of vehicles allowed on the ferry under MOT regulations. I would assume that that is being done and the safety regulations are being carried out. I would assume that. But from your remarks I will ask for a full report, both from my department and from the MLA for the riding so we can be sure that safety regulations are being adhered to. If they aren't, then it bothers me as much as it bothers the Hon. Member for Oak Bay (Mr. Wallace).
One of the problems now that we have the tolls taken off is that we have more people using it. We can either put in a larger ferry, which we don't think will solve the problem because the bigger the ferry the bigger the demand. Admittedly they can save some miles, but the Mission bridge was put in at considerable expense to the people. Hopefully a lot more people will be using the Mission bridge.
We run into the same kind of problem as we run into in the inter-relationship between land use and transportation. There are people living on the north side working on the south and vice versa using that transportation system. Obviously, the desirable goal would be to have people living on the same side that they work. We should try to use incentives so that people will do that. If we thought of putting in a new bridge we would be talking somewhere in the order of $20 million to $25 million. We in the department don't feel that the call for that usage would be there. It's either they put up with the ferry as long as the safety regulations are being adhered to and the limited use that it supplies or using the longer routing which other people are going to have to use. We don't feel that the considerable expense it would take for another bridge would be warranted at this time.
MR. WALLACE: Check out the safety factor — that's the main thing.
HON. MR. LEA: Yes, I agree that the safety factor is the main thing. I will certainly have the department give me a report on that. I will send a copy to the Hon. Member for Oak Bay (Mr. Wallace).
Dealing, as the time will allow, with some of the items that were raised by the Hon. Member for Cariboo (Mr. Fraser), I will work backwards. He mentioned the equipment vote and how he is pleased to see that it is up. It is about three times what it was previously. The $8 million has been spent except for approximately $200,000. This year, I could give you a breakdown.
MR. FRASER: Just send a note.
HON. MR. LEA: Send a note? Okay, on the things that we hope to purchase this year. We are budgeting in $11 million but as you know it is not always possible to fill it. We did last year.
Day labour is not a problem. What is happening is that there is day labour work being done all over the province at the present time. What I have done is ration it out quarterly. Instead of the whole year going out I am rationing it out quarterly because I think it is my responsibility, as much as possible, to try and stay within my budget that is approved in this Legislature. As we go along the costs are increasing fantastically, so I am going to have to judge. I want to judge quarterly where I stand from a fiscal point of view so I can get better control.
MR. FRASER: Tell your colleagues, too. They need practice in what you are doing.
HON. MR. LEA: On what you are talking about in terms of some of the back roads, I agree. It has been a problem. For the last two years that I have been Minister I have had pretty comprehensive studies done into the kind of administration we would need in order to have a regular maintenance programme and not go from one brush fire to another brush fire. You'll see soon that there are going to be some positions coming out within the Department of Highways. We're instituting a maintenance management programme. In other words, we're going to have management by objectives as opposed to management dealing with brush fires.
We don't want to become overly bureaucratic but we do need some control. It's not good enough.... Some foremen work out very well. They run their area. Some district managers run their area. But we have no way of checking at the central level really at this point as to whether one foreman is doing his job well with his crew, or whether he isn't. So under the maintenance management programme that we're beginning now, we'll be able to tell by looking at the reports that come in whether one crew are not putting up enough signs, or as much as the other crews. The management maintenance programme will be going into effect and we hope that it has a lot greater degree of control over the kind of work that the crews are doing and so we'll know.
MR. FRASER: What about regions in the province?
HON. MR. LEA: Oh, yes. Regions in the province.
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As you say, there have been four regions. I agree it was not adequate. We're going, at this point, into six regions: one more for the north and one more breaking up region 1. Vancouver Island will become a region, and the lower mainland that is one now will remain there.
AN HON. MEMBER: When?
HON. MR. LEA: It's being done now. It won't be just overnight. What we're doing is getting some personnel together so that they can go in there. In the north, for instance, it will still be run out of Prince George until we can get personnel in place — we've advertised now for personnel — and it'll be a gradual changeover so that one day we can say, "Okay, we've gone this gradual route."
Also, you'll be happy to know that there are going to be five new districts within the province.
AN HON. MEMBER: What are they?
HON. MR. LEA: One at Gibsons; one at Port Alberni; one at 100 Mile House in your area; one at Creston; and one at Dease Lake. I think that's been long overdue — both the regions and the districts. So we hope that that will solve some of the problems that you've raised.
Paving and spring break-up.
HON. MR. LEA: Well, in checking with the senior people in the department, they tell me, and I believe them, that the spring break-up every year is about the same. It doesn't matter whether the Liberals, Conservatives, Socreds or NDP are in, apparently nature doesn't care.
MR. WALLACE: Is that a fact? (Laughter.)
HON. MR. LEA: Yes. The spring break-up is exactly the same and you try to deal with it as best you can.
MR. PHILLIPS: It's called summer break-up.
HON. MR. LEA: Oh, I imagine it varies from one year to another, but I don't think it matters which political party's in.
HON. MR. LEA: We deal with that as best we can. Some years it's much worse than others.
Now there's one pothole I'd like to have plugged, and I'm looking at it. (Laughter.) I don't blame the opposition for making a political issue out of potholes — it's been done for a long time. The fact of the matter is that I think the Department of Highways should be commended for the way they deal with the kind of spring break-up we get in this province that other jurisdictions don't face to the same degree.
HON. MR. LEA: Instead of insulting the personnel of the department, I think they should be commended for the kind of job they're doing...
AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!
HON. MR. LEA: ...to try and keep the roads travelable in this province.
HON. MR. HALL: I move the committee rise, report resolution and ask leave to sit again.
The House resumed; Mr. Speaker in the chair.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Speaker, the committee reports resolution and asks leave to sit again.
Hon. Mr. Hall moves adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 11:58 a. m.