DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY (Hansard)
TUESDAY, MAY 12, 1998
Volume 9, Number 17
[ Page 7715 ]
The House met at 10:04 a.m.
R. Kasper: Visiting us in the gallery today and here for meetings with government representatives are individuals from the B.C. Trucking Association: Mr. Paul Landry, Mr. Shub Bawa and Ms. Louise Yako. Will the House please make them welcome.
OCCUPIERS LIABILITY AMENDMENT ACT, 1998The House in committee on Bill 16; W. Hartley in the chair.
On section 1.
M. Coell: With reference to section 1, section 3(3.1), "A person who is trespassing on premises while committing, or with the intention of committing, a criminal act," I would like to know why there is the differential between a criminal and someone just using the land. Why was it necessary to have this in the law when you're basically changing the liability for everyone, no matter what they're doing? Why was it necessary to have the criminal portion of this in the Occupiers Liability Act?
Hon. C. McGregor: Well, the first reason is that we don't want there to be a higher standard of payment in the eventuality of a lawsuit that a criminal in the act of trespass onto this private piece of land might bring. In other words, if the criminal endangers himself and there is some liability when he goes to court, the court could order a higher level of liability payable to the criminal than to the non-paying recreationalist. We wanted to level the playing field so that one class of person could not indeed end up getting a broader benefit than the non-paying recreationalist.
M. Coell: I'm not sure I follow the minister's logic. In putting forward that the duty of care for someone committing a crime is somehow different than for an individual, I'm not sure that the duty of care should be any different. I wonder if she could possibly explain how this additional paragraph makes that differentiation for the courts.
Hon. C. McGregor: Well, I'm not a lawyer, and I'm really trying hard to get the answers to these questions. But as I understand it, to do otherwise would create two classes of criminals. Criminals who acted on rural premises used for forestry, vacant or undeveloped, etc. -- all the classes of lands that are included in this bill -- would be subject to a certain duty of care. Other criminals would be subject to a different duty of care. This clause makes sure that all criminals in the act of committing a crime are given the same duty of care.
[10:15]M. Coell: Okay, maybe I'll use an example that might explain where I'm going. If a person trespasses onto a private forest lot with the intent of cutting down some trees and is injured in that process, he would be committing a criminal act. I just wonder how subsection (3.1) addresses the liability to the owner of that forest lot, under circumstances where that sort of crime is being committed.
Hon. C. McGregor: It would reduce their duty of care.
M. Coell: It reduces their duty of care? Okay, thank you.
With regard to section (3.2), if we have a trail now approved through private property adjoining another trail possibly owned by the Crown, and that trail that's owned by a private individual -- but a lease is given -- comes into disrepair because of use, and someone injures themselves on that trail, how does section (3.2) affect that? My concern would be if the continued use of a trail system on private property becomes dangerous and someone is injured, the private property owner still has a percentage of liability. Or does this reduce that liability?
Hon. C. McGregor: Obviously someone who has a private trail and is willing to allow people to use it is aware that there is ongoing use of that piece of trail through their personal and private property. If it were to become disrepaired over time, one would assume that because the party is aware of people using the trail, they would take due precaution to inspect it from time to time to ensure that it was in fact safe for the public to travel on. But clearly the amendment is written in such a way that it talks about reckless disregard. As long as a private landowner was clearly taking his or her responsibility seriously and inspecting the trail from time to time, they would meet the definition. They would not be able to be held liable for some act that they were not able to control themselves.
M. Coell: Thank you for that clarification.
The other concern I have is if the Crown had a legal lease for the use of the trail. I'm thinking of the Trans Canada Trail through private property. If the Crown in that lease doesn't keep the trail in repair, does the liability fall to the Crown, or does it fall to the individual who has allowed a legal use or a lease use to the Crown across their property?
Hon. C. McGregor: I'm going to try to make sure I'm answering the right question. So I'll give a little background. If it is Crown land to begin with and through leasing arrangements we lease to, say, the city of Trail to operate a trail, then it would be the city of Trail that is liable if there was any charge under the act.
M. Coell: It's the exact opposite of what I'm thinking of. If it's a private forest lot or private piece of agricultural land that the Trans Canada Trail has to go through and they give a lease to the Crown and the Crown doesn't take care of the trail, then I'm wondering who would be liable in that case.
Hon. C. McGregor: If we were to engage in such an arrangement, then it would be the Crown that would be liable.
M. Coell: I would think, for the development of the Trans Canada Trail, that individuals should lease their property to the Crown, as well as allow a trail to go through their property. If they don't and, over a period of a decade or so, the
[ Page 7716 ]Crown doesn't maintain the trail -- it's a very large trail, and I suspect that there will be times when parts of it aren't going to be maintained -- their liability would be better served through a proper lease with government that would actually shift the liability back to the Crown rather than keep it themselves through this act. I wonder if you could comment on that.
Hon. C. McGregor: Obviously it is going to be up to the individual to determine how they are going to best contribute to the trail -- or whether they choose to at all. In fact, individuals can decide: "Sorry, I am concerned about liability. Even with this reduced duty of care, I don't want people to use my private property." The Crown and this minister have not made any promises to anyone suggesting that we will take on the role of a private landowner in this regard. It will be up to the private landowner to make decisions on whether or not they wish to use their property in this way. Frankly, what we're told is that as a result of the amendments to this act, there will be an interest in doing so. The reason they have stated in the past that they have not been interested in pursuing this model through their own private property is because of the higher duty of care that was required.
This is the tool through which those individual owners may well make the decision, but as I said in my opening remarks, this in no way compels any private landowner to make their land available for trails. It is certainly up to them. There is a lot of work going on in communities, specifically with local governments and local community agencies, to create management plans about who will look after the trail and so on. Clearly the landowner can engage in a management planning process with, say, a local regional district, municipal government or non-profit group to take on the ongoing management of that section of trail. It's not necessary, nor would I suggest that the Crown would be interested in taking on the question of liability. We want to facilitate the trail, but we don't envision this act being used in that way.
M. Coell: Thank you for that clarification. What I'm looking at is how we will encourage people to participate in trails throughout the province. The distinction I want to draw is that there is still
I want to touch on municipal lands with regard to subsection (3.3). There are a number of lands used, and I wonder whether municipal properties and municipal government fall under the same occupiers' liability as private individuals do with regard to this act.
Hon. C. McGregor: The same rules would apply.
R. Neufeld: I was interested in the minister's comment about the care of the trail. Where I come from, there's a tremendous vast area. There's lots of agricultural land and vacant or leased forest land, and there are trails that have been beaten by people who use ATVs and motorcycles -- or snowmobiles in the wintertime to a great extent. They'll usually use a certain trail constantly to get out into the fields.
The minister said something that bothered me a bit in talking about due caution -- I believe those were her words -- and about an owner of the property having to go out and look at these trails at different times to make sure there wasn't anything of danger on that trail. Did I interpret the minister wrong, or is that what she is saying -- that it's actually up to the agricultural owner, who may own up to 3,000 to 7,000 acres of farmland, to constantly check skidoo trails through the winter to make sure there are no dangers on those trails and that otherwise they will be found at fault?
Hon. C. McGregor: Well, the nature of "reckless disregard" will vary depending upon the circumstance of the trail that's in question. So there might be quite a different duty of care required for a trail through a piece of agricultural land as opposed to, say, a well-established municipal trail like the Galloping Goose. Clearly there's a much higher degree of knowledge on the part of the developers of the Galloping Goose trail -- the fact that there will be lots of recreationalists using it on an ongoing basis -- so they will have to take certain steps to make sure that they keep this trail in a safe condition.
That would be different for someone on private agricultural land, who may walk through a small trail on an occasional basis in a region of the province that's much more remote. So the courts use this tool as a way of taking the term "reckless disregard" and applying it in different circumstances and in different ways.
R. Neufeld: I'm still not comforted by what the minister has told me, because I can see that some owners of land in close proximity
I don't disagree with the act, but I'm just wondering if we're not putting some things in place that may make some private landowners pretty nervous about the maintenance of certain trails or what may be deemed to be trails. With the Galloping Goose trail, I can understand. The folks across the way have been paving that on a constant basis, so that people don't have to ride through water puddles on their bicycles. Now, that's understandable. But in my country, we don't get any pavement on those kinds of trails; we just have gravel and dirt, in most cases. I think this could lead to something. Maybe the people that were drafting the legislation weren't aware that it happens in some places in rural British Columbia.
Hon. C. McGregor: Well, to give the member comfort, it's always up to a private individual as to whether or not they permit access through their land. In the case of an individual who clearly feels, for whatever reason, that they're going to be held to a level of care that they're not prepared to give, then my answer to the member is that they should put fencing and signage to indicate that people should not use their private property for that purpose.
[10:30]In the case of reckless disregard, we need to be clear about what kind of activity a landowner would have to be watchful of. We're not talking about branches falling down on the trail where someone might trip over them and harm
[ Page 7717 ]themselves. But we are talking about an activity. Let's say it is agricultural land and there was digging of an irrigation ditch or a culvert, and they had not taken appropriate steps to make it in some way known to a person who might be using that trail with their snowmobile. That's the kind of incident it's meant to cover, not specific damage like leaves blowing onto the trail and so on. There's no way -- let's say on a privately held piece of land -- that an individual would necessarily know on what day a tree may or may not have come down. In the case of digging a culvert, for instance, it can clearly be demonstrated that this person had knowledge of what that would do to the trail. That might then have impacts on the users of that trail, because the person was well aware that others could use the trail for transporting themselves from one area to another.
I just want to go back to what I said to begin with. If there is a private landowner who, for whatever reason, feels a degree of discomfort and doesn't want to take on this responsibility -- because, indeed, using your own private land to allow non-paying recreationals to use it does require a certain duty of care -- it means that they cannot ignore the fact that the individuals may be using it. They must take appropriate steps to make sure that the trail does not cause reckless harm to some other individual.
R. Neufeld: I'm just going to put one more thing on the record. I appreciate the minister's response. But when you talk about putting up a sign and fencing, it's easy to say if you're thinking in terms of a back yard. It's not quite as easy to do in terms of someone owning six or seven sections of land. We're talking about an area that's six miles square. You talk about: "Oh, just put up a three-wire barbed wire fence." Try that. It's not quite so cheap. That person may not need that fence there for any other reason than maybe to block off a trail. That's taking the easy route, thinking that it's just someone's city lot. It's a lot different when you get to rural B.C. The minister should be quite well aware of what takes place in rural B.C. when it comes to fencing.
So I think that there is some danger. I understand what the minister says about putting in a culvert or something and creating a danger to a trail that's being used all the time. I think most people with common sense would use that example and mark it.
I would like to go to subsection (3.3)(b)(iv), "private roads reasonably marked as private roads." In my constituency, we have lots of private roads that recreational users use all the time. But some private roads go to private farms. Can they now be gated? In light of this bill and what the minister said about fencing, can people now actually put a gate across that private road? Then there's no liability on them at all, and actually the road will be blocked off to all users other than this person who is deemed to have that private road.
Hon. C. McGregor: I have to advise the member to take up that question with the Minister of Highways, who may have responsibility for that issue. I can't answer the member's question in that regard.
I will say, though, in response to your earlier remarks, that the private individual that you keep raising concerns about, who does not want to give access to non-paying recreationalists
Finally, it is important for us to know that there is already a higher duty of care for anyone who is currently allowing a person to use their property for snowmobiling or whatever purpose. This act will in fact enable that person to have a lower duty of care overall. It is to that person's advantage if they are currently allowing the use of their private property for that purpose.
J. van Dongen: I like the direction of this bill, and I just want to ask the minister a few questions based on some experiences in our area.
Right at the beginning, in the first clause, section 1, section 3(3), it says: "
Hon. C. McGregor: As I understand that case, the individual was protected under the existing act. The courts ruled that they were deemed to be trespassers, and the owner of the farm was not deemed to be liable.
J. van Dongen: Another question. If there's an incident inside a building -- someone is unauthorized to be inside a building or in a feedlot or any type of structure like that -- would the same protection apply under this proposed legislation as would apply in a situation where they're out on open land?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes. The definition includes buildings and premises as well.
G. Plant: I want to ask questions about what is to become subsection (3.1). I know that subject has been canvassed a little bit already. The question of what duty of care is owed, if any, to people who are trespassers has been the subject of hundreds and hundreds of cases in the courts over the years. In this jurisdiction, up to now, it has generally been dealt with as a matter of common law rather than statutory law. I may be wrong in that, and if I'm wrong, I invite the minister to correct me. But I'm clear as to why, in a statute which has the laudable purpose of enhancing the ability of people to use generally vacant land for recreational purposes, the decision has been made to change the common law with respect to the duty of care owed to trespassers who happen to be engaging in criminal acts.
Hon. C. McGregor: This question has been canvassed earlier. Really, the principle here is that we do not want to give a higher duty of care to someone engaged in a criminal act than someone who is a non-paying recreationalist.
G. Plant: So, having decided to make the change in respect of recreational users, the objective of this provision is to ensure that criminal trespassers don't get a higher standard of care. Is that right?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, that's correct.
[ Page 7718 ]G. Plant: I'm curious to know what other jurisdictions in Canada have statutorily established a standard of care in respect of criminal trespassers. Does the minister have that information?
Hon. C. McGregor: Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Ontario all made similar amendments when they made amendments related to the trail portions, as well.
G. Plant: They have done essentially the same thing that is proposed here: having made the change to the duty of care in respect of recreational users, they felt it necessary to prescribe the same standard of care in respect of criminal trespassers. Is that right?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, that's correct.
G. Plant: I take it that we're going to be leaving to the courts the question of what constitutes a criminal act -- that is, it could include anything from a municipal bylaw infraction all the way up to an indictable offence under the Criminal Code?
Hon. C. McGregor: This would cover only federal offences -- Criminal Code violations as well as the Narcotic Control Act, drug-related charges
G. Plant: I take it, then, that the act of statutory construction the minister is engaged in assumes in effect the constitutional point, which is that the province can't make criminal law, so anything that is made an offence by the province won't be a crime and, therefore, won't be caught by this provision. Is that generally right?
Hon. C. McGregor: Yes, that's correct.
G. Plant: I never lose an opportunity to debate constitutional law on the floor of the Legislature. In certain circumstances, the act of trespass is a crime. Would it be possible for someone to, in effect, be subject to the standard of care created by this provision because their intention, alone, was to engage in the criminal act of trespass?
Hon. C. McGregor: The example the member gave would be captured by the provisions of this act.
G. Plant: I don't want to overstate the potential significance of these changes, but they're certainly of interest to someone who has spent a period of his or her life engaged in lawsuits in which issues of duty of care are raised. I know that people in law schools love to talk about this. What consultation process did the ministry engage in, particularly with respect to the amendments that are proposed to create the new (3.1)?
Hon. C. McGregor: There were numerous consultations in the creation of this act. The intent of the bill was discussed with the Agricultural Land Commission, the Forest Land Commission, the B.C. Agriculture Council, the B.C. Cattlemen's Association, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, the B.C. Law Institute, the Council of Tourism Associations, the First Nations Summit, the Outdoor Recreation Council and West Coast Environmental Law. Beyond that, we had a broad discussion with the Canadian Bar Association and shared the specifics of the act with them on a confidential basis.
[10:45]G. Plant: That's good. The one area that could perhaps be said to be missing from the list is the insurance industry -- those who are in the business of underwriting insurance risks -- because a statute like this is going to have an impact on the kind of liability insurance that farmers and owners of agricultural or vacant properties have to take out. This provision, the new (3.1), may have an effect on insurance policies that are written for people who own commercial buildings, who are clearly worried about break-and-enters and what happens when someone breaks into their premises and commits a criminal offence and all of that. Did the minister or her staff have the opportunity to consult with any representatives of the insurance industry in relation to the significance of these amendments?
Hon. C. McGregor: Thank you for your question, member. We did consultation with members of the civil litigation and insurance law sections of the Canadian Bar Association, as well as with the Municipal Insurance Association. They support the act.
Section 1 approved.
On section 2.
M. Coell: With regard to 2(a), "by repealing paragraph (a) and substituting the following: (a) a public highway
Hon. C. McGregor: If a trail is clearly marked as a trail, then this act would have effect and the lower duty of care would be in place. But if it is clearly not a trail, nor is it marked as such, then it is the common law duty that would apply, and that has a higher standard.
Section 2 approved.
Hon. C. McGregor: I move that the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 16, Occupiers Liability Amendment Act, 1998, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. D. Streifel: I call committee on Bill 15.
LEGAL PROFESSION ACTThe House in committee on Bill 15; W. Hartley in the chair.
Sections 1 and 2 approved.
On section 3.
[ Page 7719 ]J. van Dongen: I didn't have the opportunity to comment on this bill in second reading, and I won't make a long comment, but with respect to paragraph 3, there are a few things that I want to say to the Attorney General and, I think, to the legal profession. I did have some experience in the past with the Law Society, in that I filed a series of complaints on a discipline matter to the Law Society and spent a couple of years trying to learn more about its operations and the legal profession. This section talks about the objects and duties of the society to uphold the public interest.
I guess that if there's one comment I would like to make with respect to that, it's my belief that the legal profession clearly occupies a position of great influence within our society. From that perspective, there is, I think, a particular duty on the profession to use that influence wisely and properly on behalf of all members of society. I say that because we have lawyers that are involved in writing legislation and debating legislation. We have lawyers who argue law, and we have lawyers who become judges who make decisions on law.
I'm certainly supportive of the general intent of this bill. As I understand it, it is to allow the Law Society some more leeway in terms of changes that it makes over time in its regulations and operations. But I want to underscore the expectation that there is a very, very high duty for the profession to act in the public interest. Certainly in my experience
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There's no question that when you have a self-governing profession as important as the legal profession, it is an important step for government to impose the duty on the Law Society to act in the public interest, whether it has to do with complaint procedures, which government establishes, or with internal disciplinary matters, which they deal with. That's why, in fact, I understand that this section may be slightly different from what was in the previous Legal Profession Act. It is an enhancement for the protection of the public interest.
J. van Dongen: Could the Attorney General comment, then, on what is an appropriate way to achieve some accountability on that? I know that the legal profession, even more than the other professions, very jealously guards its independence -- and probably appropriately. But the difficulty that I have with all of the professions, particularly this one, is how a government that passes a law like this and that provides the authority to the profession to in effect run its own show and manage its profession and its public responsibilities
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I think part of what we're trying to do is aimed at that -- that is, we're doubling the number of lay benchers. There'll be a total of six lay benchers, instead of the three that's currently the case. As well, the Law Society obviously is always subject to public scrutiny and comment by the media on an ongoing basis with respect to complaints from the public. That's an area which concerns the public. The internal rule-making and disciplinary procedures don't necessarily concern the public to that large an extent. What concerns the public is that if a member of the public has a complaint against a particular lawyer, it be dealt with in a way that's conducive to fairness and the integrity of the process is intact. I think the complaints procedure would still be governed by the Legislature. It's not given to them.
All of the internal disciplinary matters with respect to jurisdiction over non-practising lawyers from other jurisdictions and the like
Sections 3 and 4 approved.
On section 5.
G. Plant: This is the section which as an amendment, I suppose, doubles the number of lay benchers. I wonder if I could impose on the Attorney General to outline, in a summary way, the rights and duties that lay benchers do not have. What are some of the areas in which lay benchers do not have authority? As the Attorney will see from subsection (3), the way the section is drafted, it says: "A bencher appointed under this section" -- that is, a lay bencher -- "has all the rights and duties of an elected bencher, unless otherwise stated in this Act." Is the Attorney General able to give examples of what other areas in the act -- for people who want a sense of what all this means and are not prepared perhaps to sit down and study the whole act -- are really outside the purview of lay benchers? Or is that a research project that we should all engage in?
[11:00]The Chair: Member.
G. Plant: I didn't mean to impose on the Attorney General the obligation to conduct the research project now. Perhaps I'll move on. If the information becomes apparent during the course of our review, that's fine; otherwise, I'm sure the Law Society can tell us. I know that there are subsections that say that benchers appointed under section 5 don't have the ability to participate in a particular kind of matter or issue. One of them, I guess, is the fact that we know that a lay bencher cannot become president of the Law Society.
Let me ask this, then, about lay benchers. It's cabinet that appoints the lay benchers; that's what's provided for in subsection (1). Is there a process which the Attorney or the government follows in attempting to identify potentially suitable candidates for the position of lay bencher, or are they pulled out of the air? Or is there something a little more substantive to it?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There is no elaborate process to select the lay benchers. The process that's been followed in the past is that you look for prominent members of the community who may have some time on their hands and could play a significant role. I can advise the hon. member that I have heard nothing but praise from the Law Society with respect to the benchers who have so far been appointed and who may have been in the past or are currently on the Law Society
[ Page 7720 ]board. Names such as Jack Webster come to mind. He was a bencher for several years. And I understand that current benchers also enjoy very good reputations amongst other benchers. Sometimes the legal community might suggest to the government who they think could be appointed from the community; sometimes MLAs might suggest
G. Plant: Well, the Attorney General will appreciate that any time an appointment power is conferred upon cabinet -- like this, in relatively undefined terms -- there is a responsibility given to cabinet, and hopefully, it is a responsibility exercised responsibly. I share the Attorney General's view with respect to the high quality of the individuals who have, thus far, assisted the legal profession by serving as lay benchers. Obviously, to the extent that cabinet continues to make appointments that create and instil public confidence, that is a good thing rather than a bad thing. It doesn't sound as though there is anything in the way of even the barest outline of a formal process that precedes the identification and selection of these candidates.
I'm not suggesting that we create death by rules and process. But what I would suggest is that on a regular basis, there be some kind of consultation that takes place outside the cabinet room when there is a name for consideration. It may seem odd to suggest that there should be consultation with the Law Society about the appointment of a lay bencher. On the other hand, I think that would be a good thing to do on a regular basis. I would expect that it would be the Attorney General's intention to do that on an ongoing basis. Perhaps he could just comment on that.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: There has been consultation in the past. There will continue to be consultation with the legal community, and that doesn't mean, by itself, just the Law Society. It could be lawyers that are not necessarily active in the Law Society, although they are members. But it also means that my ministry itself does due diligence on the appointment process -- résumés are sought, experience is looked at. As well, we sometimes seek the assistance of the agencies, boards and commissions group, which has a huge pool of talent sitting there, if we can't think of someone. We look at all the various sources, and then after doing due diligence and some consultation, those names are taken forward to cabinet. Cabinet doesn't engage in the selection process; the selection process is outside of cabinet.
Sections 5 to 10 inclusive approved.
On section 11.
G. Plant: It seems to me that section 11(1) is pretty close to the heart of the principle here of giving the benchers broader authority over the management of the internal affairs of the Law Society. The section reads: "The benchers may make rules for the governing of the society, lawyers, articled students and applicants, and for the carrying out of this Act."
I might pause here to say that I haven't checked every single provision of Bill 15, but an example of the change that's being implemented by this act is that in the old act, there were six sections -- sections 12 through 17 -- that dealt expressly with the issue of electing benchers. I think probably that is something that is now being left to the benchers to do; that's part of the internal governance of the society. So that's an example of what's generally being accomplished by this act.
The point that was made to me by someone who is not a lawyer, who read the act and read in particular some of the sections, like section 11(1), was: "What is meant by the phrase 'the benchers may make rules' ? " I think the expectation is that the benchers will make rules. There are already many rules made by the benchers for the governing of the society and the lawyers. The expectation, of course, is that they will continue to do so. I suppose the reason why this language is chosen is because, in the art of legislative drafting, a distinction is drawn between giving power to benchers
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes, that's the understanding: that they will make rules on these subjects, but they wouldn't be compelled to make rules. Lawyers don't have to be compelled to make rules. They make them all the time.
Sections 11 to 14 inclusive approved.
On section 15.
G. Plant: This section deals with the authority to practise law, and I suppose this is one of the places where the monopoly of the right of audience in the courts is dealt with legislatively. There is a change, I think, in respect of the authority to practise law in subsection 15(1)(f), which deals with the concept of practitioners of foreign law. The question is: what is intended by this concept of a practitioner of foreign law, and what does the government expect is going to happen as a result of this provision?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The term "practitioner of foreign law" would include not only lawyers from other countries but also lawyers from other provinces, for the purposes of this act. Obviously, other lawyers don't have the right to practise in British Columbia, and that's one of the objectives of this legislation. The other is that we need to bring this in line with NAFTA and other international agreements so that we can facilitate practitioners going back and forth, wanting to practise their trade in other parts of North America.
G. Plant: I don't want to make a big issue of it, but I suspect that in fact the intention with respect to "practitioners of foreign law," if you look at section 17(1), is to talk about people who have legal qualifications obtained in a country other than Canada, and that the idea of dealing with people from outside British Columbia but within Canada is actually dealt with in section 16 under the heading of "Interprovincial practice." So there are two different categories. One of them is subsection 15(1)(e), which is about lawyers of another jurisdiction who are permitted to practise in British Columbia under the rules in section 16. The other is about practitioners who have qualifications obtained outside Canada. I may be wrong in that distinction, and if so, I'm sure the Attorney will correct me. I suppose the point I want to establish is that the general intention here is to permit opening up the right to practise within British Columbia to people who have qualifications
[ Page 7721 ]outside British Columbia, subject to the jurisdiction of the benchers to make the rules necessary to ensure that the public interest is protected.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Correct.
[11:15]G. Hogg: I seek leave to make an introduction.
G. Hogg: It is my pleasure to introduce a group of bright and inquisitive grade 4 and 5 students from Star of the Sea school in Surrey-White Rock, and their teachers: Mrs. Kyne, Mrs. Fraser and Mrs. Boyd. I would ask that the House please make them welcome.
Section 15 approved.
On section 16.
G. Plant: I want to direct the Attorney General's attention, if I may, to what will become section 16(2)(a) and the phrase "class of lawyers." This section deals with the subject of interprovincial practice. It appears to give the benchers powers -- which they already have, in some respects, under the old act -- to permit lawyers who are qualified in other jurisdictions in Canada to practise on an occasional basis or under certain terms and conditions in British Columbia. I think there may be a change in 16(2)(a) in the use of the phrase "class of lawyers."
The question I want to ask
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The hon. member's understanding is correct. This provision has been enhanced to allow compliance with the interprovincial labour mobility agreement and the protocol that was sponsored by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, to which the Law Society of B.C. is a signatory. This would increase mobility and perhaps not bog down the Law Society in assessing the credentials of each member from a particular jurisdiction just so someone could appear before the courts on a criminal matter, or some other matter, on a temporary basis.
Sections 16 to 25 inclusive approved.
On section 26.
G. Plant: Section 26 deals with the subject of complaints from the public. It is in part 3, which is entitled "Protection of the Public." That's new language. I think perhaps there are few areas in which the work of the Law Society is more apt to be subject to scrutiny than in the area of complaints from the public. It is often the dissatisfied clients of lawyers or members of the public who are unhappy with some aspect of the services that have been rendered by a lawyer who are the most vocal critics of the way the Law Society works.
It seems to me that there may be a fairly significant development in section 26. Section 26(1) says that somebody who believes that a lawyer has practised incompetently or has been guilty of professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a lawyer or a breach of the act may make a complaint to the society. I can't find that provision in the old act. I wonder if the Attorney General could confirm that this is a new provision.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Yes, this provision is new. Previously, I believe, the act indicated that someone could complain to the Law Society. But this, in fact, expands that. It very clearly articulates that a person has the right to complain, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a client. It could be a person who knows or believes that misconduct or incompetence or the like has occurred.
G. Plant: I suppose one could argue that the drafting of this provision in the kind of broad language which has been used, and which the Attorney General has talked about, should be a fairly strong message from this Legislature to the Law Society that the right to make a complaint is an important aspect of what we think the Law Society is about when it's protecting the public interest. When they reconsider the rules that are made around the complaints process, the Law Society would be well-advised, I suppose, to recognize that the Legislature thinks that it's important to the maintenance of public confidence and the integrity of the Law Society that the complaints process be efficient, fair and workable -- and actually work. You could say that this provision sends a bit of a message to the Law Society that yes, we're prepared to reorient the balance of rule-making authority somewhat, but in doing that, please remember that we in this House think that this area of complaints is pretty sensitive and pretty important business. Would that be a reasonable assumption?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: It's a pleasure to say yes.
G. Plant: The Attorney General may be aware that there's recent
[ Page 7722 ]complaints about the way that lawyers have done their business. It's difficult sometimes to know how to help people who feel that, at the end of a long and sometimes painful litigation process that they don't think has worked out for them -- where they have attempted to engage the Law Society's complaint process and are unsatisfied with that -- there are not very many other places to turn to.
I must say, while I get some of these letters, I don't get a flood of them. On the whole, my experience has always been that the Law Society does its best in the majority of cases. But to the extent that there may be an audience among the legal profession or the society itself for the debate that we're now having, I think this is an appropriate point to just stop, as I have stopped here for a moment, to say that if there is a single area where the Law Society can undermine confidence in itself by not doing its job properly, it would be here. By giving the benchers even more rule-making power around investigating the conduct or competence of lawyers, it's the expectation that they will continue to uphold what people hope -- and what, in my case, I have experienced -- is the high standard that the society applies in these kinds of matters. I don't know if the Attorney has a comment on that or not.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I agree with the hon. member that this is a very, very important area. In fact, this is the heart and soul of the Legal Profession Act insofar as the public is concerned. I think that the Law Society will be well-advised to perhaps take a look at other institutions and to perhaps look at the police complaint procedure that we've put in place, where we have imposed an obligation on the police and/or the commissioner to assist complainants with the articulation of their complaint.
Some of the complainants are not in a position to sit down and write the complaint -- sometimes they don't know the language, don't have the facility with the language, even if they know it, or aren't aware of all the rules. I think it's important for them to take a look at that, and to take a look at the freedom-of-information legislation, where there is an obligation to assist with the seeking of information and making an application. This is an area where they have to be very, very careful and very cognizant of the public interest, always. If they aren't, obviously the Legislature is always here.
J. van Dongen: Simply to follow up and underscore the point that has just been discussed, I think that it needs to be said that section 26 only applies to complaints about lawyers. I'm wondering, to follow up on what the Attorney General just said, given the independence that is appropriately accorded to the Law Society, has the Attorney General considered setting out, in another section, the requirement for a formalized complaints procedure to the Law Society about its own conduct? I can speak from personal experience in this. We ended up not fighting a case of professional misconduct but fighting a case where we felt the Law Society had not done a proper, independent investigation -- and that, in fact, the investigation was seriously flawed. We ended up in a major dispute with the Law Society about that. But it would have been better, I think, from a public interest perspective, if there were a requirement in the legislation for some form of appropriate complaints procedure that is established in consultation with the ombudsman's office -- or whomever. Given the independence of the Law Society, that is something that should be in the act separate and apart from this provision, which deals with complaints about individual lawyers' conduct. I wonder if the minister could comment on that.
[11:30]Hon. U. Dosanjh: I hear what the hon. member is saying, but I think it's incumbent on the Law Society to make rules in this area, keeping in mind the paramountcy of the public interest. But it is also important for us to know that, at the end of the day, they are subject to the Ombudsman Act. If anyone has any problems with the way the Law Society has conducted itself, they can always complain to the ombudsman of British Columbia, who has vast powers -- powers of inquiry and all those kinds of powers. I think that's the protection that we have at the end of the day against the Law Society itself.
We would anxiously await the formulation of new complaints procedures under this legislation, if they're going to make them, with respect to the individual complainants. Obviously the member and the public are at liberty to approach the Law Society and suggest to them how best they can serve the public. They need to hear from people, and they do hear from people through the media, but they need to hear from people directly as well.
J. van Dongen: Certainly at the time that I was involved with the Law Society, I don't think they had been brought under the Ombudsman Act at that time. Having said that, in recent years I've begun to question the effectiveness of the ombudsman's office in these situations. I think a lot of good work was done in the early years and improvements made. But I'm not so sure that the level of impact of the ombudsman's office is as good as it has been in the past. And I say that seriously.
But I think that however it happens, whether it's through the ombudsman's office or through the comments of the Attorney General today, I'm certainly hopeful that the Law Society does see fit to establish some kind of formalized, publicly available complaint procedure that people can use, so they don't have to be fighting away in the dark, if you will, to try and get what they see as proper process.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: The point, I believe, has been well made. I think it would be difficult for the Law Society to establish by itself somebody outside of itself to investigate it. That's why the ombudsman's office exists.
I recognize what the hon. member is saying: despite the fact that independent officers have powers, sometimes even those powers don't help. This is not about the ombudsman's office, but I have always maintained -- and I think the hon. member for Richmond-Steveston agrees with me now to a certain extent -- that there is less accountability with the independent officers of the Legislature than there might be, for instance, with the children's commissioner, who is at arm's length and reports to me and, through me, to the public. I think that we need to really seriously rethink all of the issues around independent officers of the Legislature at some point. How often is it that we ask them questions as the Legislature -- as we ought to be asking them questions?
J. van Dongen: One final comment on this, just to clarify my concern about the ombudsman's office. I think there's a great misunderstanding about the role of the ombudsman, in that the ombudsman's office -- if you look at it very precisely -- is looking at process. But they are not looking at an appeal of the actual decision. Technically they also do not look at the real substance of the disagreement or the facts of the case; they look at whether there was fair process. That's one of the
[ Page 7723 ]difficulties I have in leaving a complaints procedure strictly to the ombudsman's office. I think we have had a good discussion about it, and I don't want to belabour it. I appreciate the Attorney General's comments.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand with respect to these kinds of bodies that there's always judicial review available at the end of the day; there's access to the courts. If the Law Society made rules which were inherently unfair, I'm sure the courts -- in the name of natural justice -- would strike them down. So you have double protection available. It is a cumbersome process for individual complainants to go to court -- it's very expensive -- but that is available.
Sections 26 to 84 inclusive approved.
On section 85.
G. Plant: Section 85 is entitled "Enforcement," and it does a number of things. It says it's an offence to do certain things. Then it goes on to say: "The society may apply to the Supreme Court for an injunction restraining a person from contravening this Act or the rules." We're looking at section 85(5), the power to apply for an injunction. It goes on to say in subsection (6): "The court may grant an injunction
It's not clear to me why the society would not already have the power to obtain an injunction, under the ordinary law, in respect of a breach of the act or the rules. I confess I haven't done any legal research on the point.
There is an issue that arises in the context of subsection (6) that also gives me just a bit of concern. As the minister knows, when you want to get an injunction from a court, ordinarily you have to persuade the court -- and we're talking about an interlocutory or an interim, a temporary, injunction -- that you have got a prima facie case, that your rights are about to be infringed or that the law is about to be broken. Then you have to go on and persuade the court that the balance of convenience favours granting the injunction, which is properly described as an extraordinary remedy. It's a remedy that is usually sought before there has been a full trial on the merits, at a time when the facts are uncertain and sometimes the legal rights are also uncertain. I have always thought, generally speaking, that as a matter of principle it is good that the test for an injunction have both of these elements -- the requirement to demonstrate that there is some prima facie wrongdoing and the requirement that on the balance of convenience, taking all things into consideration, justice is better served by granting the interim or interlocutory injunction than it would be by allowing irreparable harm to take place.
I have a concern that the second branch of the test for an injunction may be being dispensed with here in subsection (6), because it appears to be drafted on the basis that all the court needs to know is whether there is or will be a contravention of the act or the rules. It may be that, as a matter of law, a court would not read so much into the provision, but I wonder if the Attorney General is able to say what the intention of the government is in respect to this provision.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I understand the hon. member's concern. This is exactly the language that is in the old legislation; this is not new. I'm given to believe that it doesn't displace the ordinary test that is used by the courts. It simply gives the courts these factors to be considered in the context of the test that they would regularly apply. That's my understanding. But it is the old language; it's not new.
Sections 85 and 86 approved.
On section 87.
G. Plant: Here I just want to make one final point on the general subject of complaints and discipline, and that is to observe that the complaints process also works better when the public knows the results of discipline proceedings in a timely way. There are lots of rules in this statute about privilege and confidentiality, and I'm sure that most of them are justified. It's important that we protect the privacy of complainants; it's important that we don't subject the lawyers who are the subjects of complaints to unnecessary public scrutiny, particularly if the allegations against them have no foundation. At the same time, as with all processes that are somewhat quasi-judicial in nature, a certain amount of transparency and openness is necessary to maintain public faith in the process. I guess, as part of my general observations about the importance of the complaints process, I simply want to pause here at this point and say that I hope that in carrying out its new functions and exercising the powers that are given to it by this bill, the Law Society will be mindful of that additional element of the complaints process, which is the need to ensure some level of public accountability for wrongdoing by lawyers.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment expressed by the hon. member. I think confidentiality, or the prohibition against disclosure, is meant in some cases to facilitate the possibility of resolution of these issues in a quick fashion. But I think the Law Society has to be careful, in that they must recognize that there is an urge on the part of the public to have disclosure of many of the issues that, in old times, used to be dealt with quite secretively. I think the Law Society would, hopefully, keep that in mind. I think they have a role to play. They recognize that they aren't necessarily well liked amongst the public.
Sections 87 to 109 inclusive approved.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I move the committee rise and report the bill complete without amendment.
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill 15, Legal Profession Act, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
[11:45]Committee of Supply A, having reported progress, was granted leave to sit again.
Hon. S. Hammell moved adjournment to the House.
The House adjourned at 11:50 a.m.
[ Page 7724 ]
The House in Committee of Supply A; E. Walsh in the chair.
The committee met at 10:11 a.m.
ESTIMATES: MINISTRY OF EDUCATION
G. Plant: One of the issues that is of concern to the Richmond school board is the timing of the delivery to it of the information it needs in order to make its budget decisions in a particular year. Last year the implications of the budget decisions that it had to make were pretty serious. We won't revisit them here, but obviously the minister will recall the fact that there was some controversy.
Apparently, last year the specific information that's required was delivered to the Richmond school board on March 10. This year, notwithstanding their desire to have the information delivered to them earlier than that -- so they could make responsible, effective, fair decisions -- the information was not delivered till March 30. It makes it pretty tough for a school board to make the kinds of decisions that are asked of it in this context.
If I'm wrong, I'm sure the minister will correct me on my facts. But assuming I'm right, I'm wondering if the minister could explain how it is that he expects a school board to make the kinds of budgetary decisions that they have to make when they get so little time to make them.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member is right: there were some delays in getting the information out to boards. There were some extensive discussions on school district budgets earlier in the year before the budget was finalized and before I knew what money I had to talk to the boards about. Then it took some time to do the internal work of getting that out to boards.
One of the things we did do in recognition of the time pressures that we were putting on boards was extend their time for submission of budgets. Rather than the ordinary time, which would be the end of April -- I think April 27 was their original deadline for submission of budgets -- we delayed it until May 12, today.
G. Plant: I take it, though, that the minister agrees that it would be better to try and get the information out sooner. I assume that he will do what he can on an ongoing basis to try and improve the situation. Is that a fair assumption?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Yes, I share that goal with the trustees.
G. Plant: There's been, I'm sure, lots of debate about the implications of the proposed collective agreement with teachers here during the course of the estimates process. One thing that I know gets discussed a lot is the implications of the proposed agreement for classroom sizes, for the number of teachers, for classroom assistants -- for those kinds of front-line resources.
[10:15]I want to share with the minister an issue that is of some concern to the Richmond school board as an additional implication of this. Believe it not -- at least I was surprised to learn this -- the Richmond school board is the second-largest employer in the city of Richmond, second only to the airport. Yet they are able to manage a very large workforce with only three payroll clerks. That's partly because they have the skill set and the tools to manage the administrative implications of the existing collective agreement provisions.
There are some changes proposed in the proposed collective agreement with respect to benefits. I think there is a particular change with respect to, for example, the moment at which substitute teachers get to be paid at full scale as opposed to the ordinary substitute teacher rate. I'm not interested in debating the merits of those proposals so much as in bringing to the minister's attention the fact that changes like that have administrative implications. Those would be better to avoid if possible, I suppose, because everyone is trying to operate a school board in a way that puts the most resources into the classrooms. The school board in my city is a bit worried that there will be additional administrative burdens imposed by this collective agreement, which may require them to hire more staff to deal with payroll issues, which of course would then mean there would be fewer resources available for classroom hiring.
I wonder if the minister has a response to that expression of concern.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Whenever there is a change in collective agreement provisions, almost inevitably there is some policy and procedural work that needs to be done at the school district level. We've tried to keep
The second one is effective July 1. Teachers on call will be eligible to participate in a benefit plan under the local collective agreement, provided they're paying the premium. Depending on the uptake, of course, in a school district, that could result in some additional paperwork. It's hard to quantify either of those right now. The major changes that the member is referencing -- namely, placement of teachers on call on scale; three days and then subsequent days or whatever -- take place July 1, 2000. So there is a good opportunity for school districts to plan and consult before they implement that.
There is no doubt about it: there are two changes to the collective agreements -- around mileage charges and around participation in benefit plans -- that will affect school district operations in the coming fiscal year.
G. Plant: Are there any provisions in the agreement to accommodate the needs of school districts that may find the uptake, in respect to the benefit program, for example, is significant enough to actually require the hiring of additional administrative staff? Or is that just a cost which school districts are going to have to bear?
Hon. P. Ramsey: There is no provision for additional flow of funds to school districts to accommodate administration of this or other collective agreements.
[ Page 7725 ]G. Plant: On an entirely different subject, the minister is probably aware that there has been some discussion about the government's changes in budgets for the operation of freedom-of-information services on a ministry-by-ministry basis -- that is, I think the minister's staff will have been on the receiving end of some communication from Treasury Board that says there need to be certain cuts in FOI services and funding within the ministry. I'm wondering if the minister could tell me what the budget was in relation to freedom of information for the Ministry of Education in the last fiscal year and what the budget is to be in the next fiscal year.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Staff do have those figures for us, hon. member. It will take them a couple of minutes to get them. Perhaps he could move to another topic and come back, or defer to another member.
G. Plant: I'm happy to wait. I may not be here when the answer comes, so maybe I could put my second question on the record. I'm proceeding on the assumption that there is a cut in the ministry's budget to service FOI requests.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Actually, the Ministry of Education has no proposed reduction in FTEs in the area of freedom of information. Around 8.5 FTEs in the ministry deal with this as full-time work. They actually are projecting a slight increase in expenditures for dealing with FOI requests this year: 1997-98 actual expenditures were $476,000; the current proposed expenditures are $535,000.
G. Plant: Is the ministry expecting to impose fees for FOI requests, where fees have not been charged in the past, or to increase fees as a component of the $535,000 budget?
Hon. P. Ramsey: As the member references, there has been a cross-government directive from Treasury Board to look at doing some increase in fees related to FOI requests, particularly, for example, for the hourly fee charged for processing requests. I'm getting staff here that can tell us what the latest work within the ministry has been in response to that directive.
G. Plant: I look forward to the answer, but I guess the point of the question is to determine whether the Ministry of Education is, in effect, getting more money from government for the purpose of responding to FOI requests. Or, alternatively, is it doing what other ministries are doing, which is getting less money but expecting to charge greater fees and therefore make up some of the loss? Perhaps, if that is helpful further to my last question, I'll sort of weave it out and re-ask the question on that basis.
Hon. P. Ramsey: First, on the member's direct question, there has been no change in fees at this point. We are looking at working with other ministries to ascertain what increased level of fees there would be. Currently, any additional costs are being offset within the ministry to make up the budget figures that I presented to the member.
I would point out that one of the things that the FOI branch within this ministry is doing is actually providing this service, not only for the Ministry of Education but for the Ministry of Advanced Education and for ITAC and Labour. It's sort of a consolidated shop doing work for a number of ministries, to do it more effectively. As the member may remember, at one time all those operations -- Labour, ITAC, Advanced Ed -- were serviced by one ministry, rather than by creating multiple branches within other ministries. We've kept it centralized here.
G. Plant: So in sum, the ministry which supplies those services to all the places that the minister has indicated will, in the fiscal year that we've now embarked on, provide those services at an increased budget of $535,000 without any cut having been imposed on it by Treasury Board. Is that correct?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Treasury Board has said very clearly that some portion of that increased budget will be supported by increased fees on users of the system. We are working with the group that I described, as well as with other FOI branches across government, so that we're consistent in how additional user fees are formulated.
G. Plant: What proportion has Treasury Board said must be made up by increased fees?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The cut proposed by Treasury Board to our 1998-99 budget was on the order of $120,000. We've decided to make up all of that in the short term by reallocation within the administrative operations of the ministry, because we're providing service to two other ministries and a commission, as well as the branch providing advice to 60 school boards around the province. It's not just dealing with FOI requests within the actual operations of the people who work for the Ministry of Education; it's also that other part. That's the magnitude of the reduction that we are dealing with. We expect to make up some portion of that; perhaps on the order of $60,000, by an increased level of fees. But as I said, no such changes in fees have currently been made, because we're working across government to see how we should deal with that.
[10:30]G. Plant: I appreciate the minister's answer. I take it that he's also saying, in part, that there's a commitment on the part of his ministry that there will be no impact on the service delivery in relation to freedom of information as a result of these cuts. Is that a fair assumption?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Thank you for putting that on the record for me, sir. Frankly, I was dealing with the detail of it. You can see by the detail that I've laid out for you that the ministry is concerned about preserving this function and preserving that service, both for the ministries that we provide it for and, I think, perhaps more importantly
G. Abbott: Could the minister advise me what process has been either (a) set by Treasury Board or (b) anticipated by the minister to determine what and when those fee increases will be for FOI?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The ministry is working to prepare proposals for my consideration and the consideration of the other ministers that the freedom-of-information branch within the Ministry of Education serves; I've talked about them. They
[ Page 7726 ]should have those for our consideration in the next several weeks. The target date for implementation of any revised fee schedules is the end of June.
G. Abbott: I'd like to turn to some local issues in the beautiful constituency of Shuswap, if I could. I would like the minister to update me on a couple of projects that I have talked about in the previous estimates with the minister. I'm looking forward to hearing what exactly the status of these projects is.
The first I want to inquire about is Shuswap Junior Secondary School. My understanding from recent developments and announcements is that all impediments to the commencement of that project have been removed and that that project, if not underway now, will soon be underway.
Hon. P. Ramsey: If there are any other impediments, we're unaware of them. Actually, we were unaware of some of the impediments that led to the delay. There seem to have been a number of hurdles that needed to be cleared at the school district as far as doing some disposal of other assets to offset the cost of the secondary school. That led to some delay at the school district end. As I said when one of the women I met when I toured the school last fall came to Victoria, there was also a delay within the Ministry of Finance and my ministry in dealing with the process once the school board had cleared all its hurdles. All have been cleared, specific project approval has been granted -- assigned by myself and the Ministry of Finance -- and the board either has gone or will be going to tender very, very shortly.
G. Abbott: That particular project, as you probably appreciate, has been the object of some frustration from the delays in getting it moving, I'm pleased to hear that all impediments are out of the way and that we can look forward to the completion of that project at a foreseeable point in the future.
The second school which has been the object of a good deal of discussion in estimates in previous years is A. L. Fortune Secondary in Enderby. Again, this a school that is overpopulated at the current time for the size of it. I understand that the ministry has approved the expansion and renovation of the school to accommodate 200 more students than it currently can. Again, could the minister advise (a) whether there are any lingering impediments with respect to the commencement of A.L. Fortune Secondary construction and (b) when that is likely to get underway?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The 1998-99 capital planning includes construction approval for A.L. Fortune. Staff advise me that the school district is in its final stages of completing the planning for it and that we expect they'll be going to tenders in the next month or so.
G. Abbott: Very good. Has the debate around the extended school day, as a requirement for construction at A.L. Fortune, been resolved? It's a difficult issue. In the case of A.L. Fortune some 70 percent of the students are currently bused, because of the rural nature of the area. It was difficult, from a practical or logistical perspective, to see how an extended school day was going to work there. Has that concern been put to rest?
Hon. P. Ramsey: As far as staff are aware, we've dealt with it in a way that has put the concern to rest because of A.L. Fortune's and the school district's ability to extend some operations outside of the normal -- if you want to call it that -- nine-to-three slot. We have been able to reduce the scope of the project by two or three classrooms, and the school district and the ministry have said that this is appropriate, given the transportation difficulties that the member is referring to.
The idea of efficiency scheduling was never intended to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Clearly, in urban areas where you have concentrated populations, there is an ability to do far more than there is in a rural-urban setting, such as the one served by A.L. Fortune.
G. Abbott: I'm pleased again to hear that A.L. Fortune will be proceeding in the foreseeable future. I believe the minister said the board could be ready to go to tender within a month. That is certainly going to be most welcome news to the community of Enderby, which has been waiting for literally years to see the commencement of this project. So that's good. I'm sure we won't be back here next year asking again about the status of these two projects. Hopefully, we are gliding upward and onward to a new and brighter day in those two schools, and I look forward to that.
I want to ask a couple of other questions that have been posed to me locally, although I think they probably have broader application. One of the concerns that has been expressed to me is the impact of school amalgamations on stress-related absences of administrators, principals and those folks. Could the minister advise whether this has been a problem and whether there have been any difficulties in filling principalships in the Okanagan region as a consequence of this particular problem?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We are unaware, among staff, of any posted positions for principals or vice-principals that have gone unfilled. Surely, if there has been a concern raised by the Principals and Vice-Principals Association
G. Abbott: I don't want to revisit anything that has been discussed previously. I understand that the next question, which is related to the first, has not been asked -- that is, will any so-called buyout provisions for older teachers be extended to administrators and principals as well?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Not as part of the current early retirement package.
G. Abbott: I want to ask a couple of questions on professional development budgets which, again, I understand have not been asked. The concern I have heard is with respect to a loss of administrative control over curriculum development. Could the minister advise first what the current situation is with respect to the size of professional day budgets? And who effectively manages those funds?
[ Page 7727 ]Hon. P. Ramsey: The member might wish to clarify some of the specifics he's heard. As far as staff are able to ascertain, there's been no cut in funds for implementation of curriculum that would be available to run professional development days locally. It's around $12 million a year that school districts spend on that. In addition, through the ministry there's some $2 million to $3 million in field services that is used to assist school districts in that work.
School districts set their own agendas for professional development days. The ministry does have the ability to say: "Here's an issue that we want to see addressed broadly." But the great majority of work is done at a district level, obviously sometimes constrained by provisions of local collective agreements and informal relationships among staff within a district.
G. Abbott: I certainly had no suggestions made to me that the budget had been cut. The concern was more related to the suggestion -- and the minister can certainly correct this in a hurry if it's incorrect -- that more of the budget had been directed to the British Columbia Teachers Federation for them to determine the disposal or use of.
Hon. P. Ramsey: First of all, we can sort of look back and talk about where we are. There have been funds provided from the ministry to some of the partnership groups -- superintendents, principals and teachers -- around the implementation of new curriculums. The amounts provided to all those groups are going down as the revision and implementation of new curriculums proceeds. There have been no reductions in the moneys given to school districts for implementation issues. Mind you, they have run at $12 million a year. Staff advise me that they have a couple of million in surpluses from previous years held in trust accounts. So that's the current state. There have been discussions both within the BCTF -- you have probably seen some of this in their magazine -- and among other partners in education about whether some changes should be made to the way funds are allocated or controlled. But no changes have been made as we talk in this chamber.
G. Abbott: Again, I don't want to belabour this. The minister can determine whether this is a correct summary: there'll be $12 million for this purpose in the coming year and, in addition, $2 million to $3 million from the ministry to help implement it. As far as the minister can anticipate or expect or determine, that money -- at least the lion's share of it -- will be going to the school districts for their determination in terms of professional development. Correct?
Hon. P. Ramsey: A good summary. I would agree. I think you've summarized it accurately.
There's one thing I did want to mention. I said that that is the current state. But without embarking on a huge discussion here, I do want to indicate very clearly to the committee that there has been interest, particularly among teachers, in figuring out how there might be a different way of approaching professional development or professional renewal for the teaching force and for other professionals who work in our school system. Some jurisdictions have done this through a teacher development centre or a teacher development initiative, which is more centralized than the model we have in British Columbia. I have agreed to work with education partners in considering whether changes should be made to the way we currently do things. But the budget that we are debating today incorporates none of those changes.
G. Abbott: I guess that's clear enough. Obviously, if there is a substantial change, it might be something we'll debate in next year's estimates. Hopefully, for the coming year the path is clear.
The final question I have is, I think, a straightforward one. Under the proposed new contract, will substitute teachers have precedence in terms of new hirings in school districts?
Hon. P. Ramsey: Only if they have such a preference under one of the current agreements with the school districts, and there's some variation in that across the province.
J. Weisbeck: For a number of years the city of Kelowna has cost-shared a bicycle program with the school district. Unfortunately, with some of the cutbacks, that's one of the programs that was cut. I've been asked by the city of Kelowna to encourage the province to support and fund bicycle safety programs in the schools. So I'm passing that along to the minister. Could I have his response, please?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This would be a local decision at the school district level. I would ask the member to make representation to his school district. I've surely seen effective bicycle safety programs in schools as I travel the province. I think many trustees seek to work with cities and other agencies on a range of initiatives to increase student safety.
J. Weisbeck: There is a concern of one of the parents in Kelowna with the sponsorships in grade schools. I guess his concern is that it is such an early age -- grade school -- for his child to be subjected to this form of advertising. I guess I'd like to know what the minister's feeling is on sponsorship in schools. In particular, what sort of goal does the minister set for the percentage of funding that will come from private sponsors?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This matter currently rests largely in the hands of school districts. They can create their own policies around the activities for which they are willing to consider private-private partnerships and their range, obviously.
I've drawn some fairly clear lines as minister, and my bottom line is quite clear. I welcome private support for public schools with one large caveat: keep your hands off our curriculum. For example, if a private firm wishes to come in, as some do, to help acquire software or hardware to enhance technology access, and the quid pro quo is that the kids see that this is a computer from Compaq or whatever -- fine. Currently there's a large program that private firms participate in; B.C. Tel retirees refurbish computer equipment and place it in schools, which is fine. It provides increased technology at no cost to the taxpayer, and the sponsorship is relatively low-key. In those areas I don't have a large concern. I think we'd be making a mistake if we didn't recognize the value of appropriate use of private funds to support public education.
We're also working, though, more broadly to develop a provincial policy on these private-public partnerships. We're working with the BCTF -- which already has its own set of policies -- and with trustees and others, so we can provide school districts with some broad, overarching guidelines on where it is appropriate and where it is not. I hope that provides the member with information about the current state of policy in this area.
J. Weisbeck: I'm interested in looking at the future pie as well. What's the expectation of the ministry that the private sector will actually supply to the budgets in the future?
[ Page 7728 ]Hon. P. Ramsey: Actually, I expect very little. There are some opportunities here. I mentioned one: computer technology. I'll mention a couple of others that I'm aware of in my own community. For example, some of the large forest industry firms in the Prince George area provide tours and opportunities for students to get out and see what's actually happening in the working forest. They do so at little or no cost to the district; obviously it's a donation in kind to the school district to enhance the education of kids. Firms do that every working day of their lives.
I'll mention another one where I want to give full marks and full thanks to the private sector. That's in providing students the opportunity to get information about the world of work through work experience, job-shadowing, whatever. It is a cost on private firms when they're approached to do that sort of work with the schools. It's a way of cooperating and saying that our students need to understand what's happening in the workforce. They have these opportunities there, and industry supports our schools in that way. It's not anything that I would call "sponsorship," but it is clearly support of the public education system by private ventures. So there's a wide range, as I said before, of contributions made by the private sector to the public system.
In terms of dollars, it's not a large component of the $3.5 billion of tax dollars that we spend. But it is a significant enhancement to education. My bottom line is clear. The control of curriculum, the control of what we're doing, the responsibility for accountability and outcomes must rest with elected officials both at the school district and provincial level, not with private firms.
J. Weisbeck: I guess the concern has been that school districts would be spending a lot more time fundraising than they will be on their actual education programs. That was a concern of this individual.
I received a briefing from school district 23. I want to get the minister's direction on middle schools. I thought it was an interesting concept, having grown up in that junior high school era, then having seen them lost and now we seem to be moving in that direction again -- at least in school district 23 they are. Is this a public policy of the ministry? Or is this just something that school district 23 has taken on as a pet project?
Hon. P. Ramsey: This is very much a local decision. I think the member is right: an increasing number of districts seem to be showing some interest in a middle school concept and are looking at organizing both their capital and operating budgets around that sort of a model. There are strongly held views on both sides as far as middle school being the best way or a full high school being the best way to do it.
A Voice: Where are you going to put them?
Hon. P. Ramsey: There are strong arguments on issues around academic achievement, on socialization and on a range of issues. As far as the ministry is able to ascertain, there's no compelling research case to be made one way or the other. So school districts make their own decisions on this and work with the ministry for implementation.
J. Weisbeck: My final question is just an interest in the year 2000 problem. I was wondering whether the ministry will be compliant.
Hon. P. Ramsey: We are in cooperation with other agencies within the provincial government working on this issue. My deputy advises me that this ministry should be in compliance in advance of the problem date. We're also seeking to provide information-sharing with school districts as they work on the problem at a local level. The responsibility for local compliance rests with the local level. I guess the good news is that no planes are going to crash if the Ministry of Education doesn't get it right. The more bothersome one is that we sure don't want a whole bunch of student records vanishing into the ether come 2000.
[11:00]J. Dalton: Firstly, I need a point of clarification. It's on the Handsworth Secondary School expansion. On the construction project list, its says increased capacity from 1,000 to 1,200, and yet the spaces to be constructed are 500. Is there an error in one of them? I'm pretty sure 500 is the correct figure, but I want that confirmed.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The difference between space to be added in the 500 figure is because of the school's work on implementing efficiency scheduling, or extended days -- however you wish to describe it. Currently, they've been able to accommodate around 200 more than capacity through the efficiency scheduling that they have in place. We're going to be building spaces which would normally accommodate an additional 200 students -- that's 400 -- and we think that additional space will accommodate not 200, but 300. So there's your 500, hon. member.
J. Dalton: Thank you. I think that clarifies it. The number is actually 1,350 in the school now. My daughter happens to be one of them. It's appropriate that I follow my colleague from Kelowna, because he has an interesting line of questioning about private-public partnerships. The Handsworth school community is at the moment looking very seriously at the tentative plans -- and I saw them on the weekend -- for the expansion. But they are now in a pretty active mode and are actually putting the committee together with regard to hopefully raising capital funds whereby they can add to the ministry's plans for expansion and, for example, expand their drama facility and maybe even a theatre that could be accessible for public use.
Personally I feel that our schools are badly underutilized in many regards. What the committee would like to look at -- and I invite the ministry's reaction -- is whether they can produce the extra funding, for example, to build a theatre that would be not just for school use but also for public use during weekends and otherwise. Would that be the sort of thing that this ministry would be prepared to endorse?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member might wish to confer with his colleague to his left, because I think Delta Secondary has done precisely this in years past. The ministry has approved such projects around the province. The ministry doesn't fund, within its budget, stand-alone theatres which are for school and community use. There have been a number built -- in Kimberley, South Burnaby, Delta -- over the years. If there's an interest in this in the school district that the member is talking about, I wish them well with it. It has worked well too, for example, in Prince George.
J. Dalton: My final question or comment is that certainly I will take that concept back to the Handsworth community. They also have in mind other plans for any extra funding that they can produce. But they want to make sure that they won't get any resistance from the ministry in Victoria if they indeed
[ Page 7729 ]have the capacity to add something to a shell, shall we say, of expansion that will obviously benefit not just the school community but also the entire community of North Vancouver -- or the North Shore, for that matter. I think we can happily proceed with at least that concept in mind.
I guess the other thing we also have to track
[E. Conroy in the chair.]
Hon. P. Ramsey: Welcome to the chair.
I think that the member may have stopped hearing after he heard BCTF. This work is going on not only with the BCTF but also with the B.C. School Trustees Association, the Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils and superintendents. There's no intent of simply consulting with one of the partners in education around it
F. Gingell: I understand there have been some discussions around earthquake issues. I understand the issue wasn't discussed that 50 percent of the damage caused at both Northridge and Kobe were caused by what's called "fire following," which are fires that are normally caused by the rupture of natural gas lines, which would be applicable in the high-risk earthquake areas of the lower mainland. So my first question is: does the ministry require all new schools to have the special equipment in them, triggered by tremors, that cuts off gas supplies?
Hon. P. Ramsey: No, we didn't discuss that before; you're quite right. Frankly, I'm not sure we have a clear answer for you here in the chamber. I will endeavour to get staff to ascertain currently (1) what the provincial code is on this issue as far as upgrade to address seismic concerns, and (2) what municipal codes are. Staff advise that if a school were being constructed in a municipality that clearly had that as part of their building code, then obviously that would be part of the code that would apply to a new school. Schools would also, of course, have the ability to do retrofits to existing schools, and staff advise that it's a relatively small item -- like the valve costs of around $3,000 or so. They have the ability within their capital allowance to do some of that.
So I guess my short answer to you is that we'll endeavour to get you a more comprehensive response to that one, and I thank you for raising it.
F. Gingell: They do cost more than that because they are multiple valves that are put on many lines within the system. Not with the Ministry of Education but with a different ministry that's also involved in building major infrastructure around the province, my understanding is that in their basic design criteria for new facilities, they include these things. But in the exercise to reduce the costs from the bids to the approved sums, they have sometimes been one of the earliest things to be taken out.
I want to raise that because I think this is being really foolish. The purpose of my bringing the question up is to encourage the Ministry of Education not to wait for municipalities to catch up but to try and deal with this, particularly in the areas that are high risk, and to ensure that they don't get taken out in the exercise of the final adjustments that are made to bring the contract down to within the approved capital sums. I appreciate the discussion.
Hon. P. Ramsey: Thank you for raising the issue. I think your points are well taken. Some of our early discussion the other day around seismic upgrading did point to the fact that we seem to be dwelling excessively on the sort of structural upgrading to avoid injury or death as a result of an earthquake, where the recent experience suggests that non-structural and other elements may be at least as significant, perhaps more significant, in causing injury or death.
So I appreciate your raising that, and I will endeavour that staff get back to you with an answer on where we are now. I appreciate your advice on the potential for leadership by the ministry dealing with this issue.
V. Anderson: I apologize if I go over things that have already been raised. When we're not here in the chamber, we try to listen to the broadcast to keep up to date with it.
A couple of questions, though, that I wanted to ask
Hon. P. Ramsey: Imagine my disappointment to discover that I don't actually have that $2 million in my budget. The reconciliations actually reflect the entire '97-98 year, hon. member. What happened is that that program was transferred into the Ministry of Education, Skills and Training, which, as you know, combined both training, advanced education and the K-to-12 system. It was then transferred out of this ministry in that large lump sum, which is also reflected there, when the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology was created. So the program rests with the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology. Questions about the program should be raised with Minister Petter during his estimates.
[11:15]V. Anderson: Let me try the other one, then: the transfer from the Ministry of Human Resources of funding for the volunteer incentive program. As I read this, this is transferring from another ministry -- in both cases -- to the Ministry of Education. Down below are the minister's programs that are transferred out. So these two transfers -- both of them, as I read it -- were transferred into the Ministry of Education.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I don't want to apologize for the way expenditures are reported. I think MLAs have probably grap-
[ Page 7730 ]pled with some of the intricacies of this over the decades. The answer is the same as with the previous transfer. This program now rests with the skills division of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Training and Technology. It was transferred in during the year, when the former Ministry of Education, Skills and Training was split in two.
V. Anderson: Then, moving over to the other statement, I notice that the amount for debt services has gone down $135 million. I'm curious as to why it's gone from $404 million to $269 million. It's gone down fairly significantly. It's interesting. Has the debt gone down that much, or have the interest rates gone down? Why has that gone down?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I advise the member opposite to raise this with the member for Delta South, because the decision to redo the way we account for debt on school construction projects actually came out of the Public Accounts Committee. I will read you the explanation I have, and then you can raise any further questions with that member of your caucus:
"The debt service funding was lowered by $135 million to reflect a new government policy for debt service and sinking fund contributions. Beginning in 1998-99, the government will replace fiscal agency loans for educational capital financing purposes with prepaid capital advances. This change will address a qualification on the public accounts made by the auditor general.I hope that is clear for you, hon. member. I have read this several times. I've been briefed on it. There are days when I think I understand it, and there are days when I simply defer to the member for Delta South.
"There will be three major changes:
 All existing loans to the capital financing authorities will be cancelled, and all associated debt and sinking fund assets will be assumed by the province;
 The debt service subvote has been reworded to include debt interest payments and other related issue costs, while netting off the applicable earnings on sinking fund assets;
 A new subvote has been added which reflects the portion of the prepaid capital advances that will be expensed during the current year. These advances will be effectively amortized over the useful life of the underlying assets."
V. Anderson: The question that comes from that, then, is: does that mean that the $135 million has been left in the Education budget and used in other places? Related to that is the explanation of the amortization of the $151 million which was not there previously. Are they interconnected?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The short answer is yes. I think the fairest way for those of us who are non-accountants to understand this and the year-over-year cost of servicing debt for building schools is to take last year's figure of $404 million and compare it to this year with the sum of $269 million and $151 million, because those are equivalent purposes. They are being accounted for in slightly different ways -- for reasons known to the auditor general and to the member for Delta South.
V. Anderson: I was watching on television the other day a school which is using new math programs for teaching math skills. Whole classes are using it and are apparently getting two or three grades above because of this process. They're having a great time doing it and are quite proud of themselves. So maybe we all need new math programs as part of our MLA programs.
I was curious and wanted to make sure that in the budget figures
A Voice: What page?
V. Anderson: Page 117.
Hon. P. Ramsey: The lines you need to look at are the bottom lines there: $4,086 million last year and $4,209 million this year. The difference, of course, is the difference in how you account for debt. There's that $151 million which reflects this new way of doing debt. So the equivalent figures are the ones at the bottom of those lines. Spending for schools is up.
V. Anderson: I guess it's the accounting that you look at -- how you account for the debt and the figures, one way or another. But the actual money for classroom teacher expenditures, apart from accumulated debt and interest, is down according to the records here. The other, the $151 million, is, as you explained earlier, the amortization for debt processes. Perhaps you can put that against capital but not against actual operating.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I'd ask the member to turn back one page to page 116, several lines down: K-to-12 education programs, net of recoveries, $4.209 billion. That's exactly the same figure that you've just looked at. Go down, then, to the following four lines and break that down by object of expenditure. The first line says: "Operating contributions, public schools." This is the most significant line in determining what operating budgets schools are getting. Last year there was $3.498 billion in operating contributions; this year, $3.601 billion. Spending for schools is up.
There's one other little wrinkle here. These estimates are based on the fiscal year; the school calendar year is slightly different. Therefore part of the increase of $105 million in operating contributions to school districts is not captured here but will be captured in the first quarter of the 1999-2000 fiscal year. Operating contributions to school districts for the '98-99 budget year have gone up $105 million.
V. Anderson: Just for clarification, then. In that $105 million that you say operating funds have gone up
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think we've canvassed this extensively, hon. Chair. That would be an additional expenditure given to school districts after ratification.
V. Anderson: One of the issues that I want to raise
[ Page 7731 ]together is renovation. So it's either a cost of renovation, which is needed to make the two coincide, or a penalty if they don't coincide, because more metre space is being used per student because of the nature of construction. Have you looked into the possibility of equalizing that -- either making funds available for the renovation costs so the remodelling can take place to make them equal, or adjusting the formula to take that into account?
Hon. P. Ramsey: I think there are two issues that the member has here. I'll try to separate them and deal with them.
First, does the ministry fund the actual number of square metres for a school -- for maintenance and cleaning or whatever -- or some theoretical number? The ministry funds actual square metres. Vancouver benefits from that, and districts with newer schools that are smaller per student space don't benefit from that. We do try to recognize the actual number of square metres.
The second issue, as I understand it, is: when you're proposing a renovation, do you base it on some theoretical number of square metres or on the larger square metres that an older school may have? In the case of Vancouver we are attempting to recognize the larger size of some of those older schools -- wider hallways and the like -- in determining appropriate funds for renovation. If the member wishes, staff can provide him with seven examples where this has already been done in Vancouver.
V. Anderson: I was listening, in the discussion, to the emphasis the minister was putting on citizenship in classrooms, programs and this kind of thing, and I appreciate that kind of emphasis. There wasn't a great deal of discussion, though, as to the content of that citizenship. Could the minister respond with a little more detail as to what is meant by citizenship in his mind and the kind of programming and curriculum for that?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The member and I could discuss this at some length and put our views on the record. I think what's going to be more important is the views of the people who are actually partners in running education. This is an issue that the ministry is working on with the provincial education committee as one of the three areas we want to look at for increased accountability. The member's quite right. In my comments to date I haven't said: "Here's how we're going to measure it, and these are the ten factors." That is something that the groups themselves are going to be grappling with. I can think of a list that I might wish to propose to them, and I'm sure the member could as well. But at this point I think that we should leave it to the partnership groups to start working on it.
Various topics in citizenship, as the member knows, are included across the curriculum. In addition, there are obviously some specific courses such as social studies that feature this as a central hallmark. I'm tempted to give my long dissertation about what I'd like to see schools do for citizenship, but I think I'll end my answer there.
V. Anderson: Thank you, and I appreciate it. Hopefully we can have another chance to discuss it, because I think it's very important and something that people are concerned about.
The minister commented, in the discussion, on the cap on adult education programs within the system. On the other hand, there are a lot of programs where people are trying to encourage people to come back into educational programs. Could the minister just take a moment and give the nature of how he arrived at that cap and what the priorities of programs are? We can say there's only so much money available, but I'm also wondering about which kind of programs would have priority with the money that is available. What kinds of students and what kinds of adult programs are being emphasized within the funds that are available?
[11:30]Hon. P. Ramsey: First, to answer how the overall number is arrived at, there wasn't a lot of science to this. We simply looked at the pattern of growth -- and the accelerating pattern of growth in spaces here over the last seven years -- and said: "Hold on now. We've doubled it in six years, from about 6,300 FTEs back in '91-92 to 12,700 FTEs in '97-98. Let's get a handle on this, because there are similar levels of growth in the college adult basic education system and in many other programs that are run through Human Resources Development Canada in conjunction with non-profit agencies in our communities." So there are a couple of things. First, we said: "Let's just cap it. Let's stand here and see if this is a level which meets demand." Actually, current-year school district enrolments were under the cap, which said to me as minister that we seem to meeting most demands here.
But the more important initiative was asking school districts to work with other partners in their regions -- colleges, HRDC, non-profits -- that are doing similar work, to get a regional plan for offering adult basic education across the piece. The decision on what parts of that adult education program are emphasized by which particular institution rests with districts and colleges and other agencies at a regional level. The ministry does not attempt to do that regional planning for them.
V. Anderson: I appreciate the minister's comment.
The final area I'd like to discuss with the minister is the area of supervision on school grounds, because I listened with interest to the very lively discussion about that. I wanted to emphasize it, because I hear it consistently in my area and right across both elementary and high schools. There are a variety of factors. I undertook to appreciate the minister's comment that this is something that children need to learn in a variety of ways and backgrounds, whether they're on the school grounds or off the school grounds, whatever that is.
But there is a realization that children are in one sense captured by force on the school grounds, because they don't have a choice to be there. They're not going there by choice; they're forced to be there. They're forced to be together with people that they might not normally associate with. If they were out in the community, they'd divide themselves into groups that they get along with rather than groups that would challenge them or fight with them or beat up on them. So there is some obligation, from having forced them to be there, to provide the kind of supervision that goes along with that.
There is also a fair bit of concern about persons from outside of the system -- young people as well as older people -- coming onto the school grounds to take advantage of a situation where there is not proper supervision and there is not opportunity
[ Page 7732 ]was amazing to the adults to discover that these kids didn't know these games because they had never learned how to play many of these things together. So there was supervision in the positive sense of helping them to learn to play and interact and take turns and do all the other things.
Positive supervision is important -- to have the leadership there not just to protect, which is part of it, but also to provide learning experiences, which are just as important outside the classroom as they are inside the classroom. There is concern that leadership in education and supervision outside at recesses and before and after school is being downgraded. Whereas the leadership in the classroom is being upgraded, the leadership in the supervision and education in the other time is being downgraded, and there is concern about that.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I also said in that rather lively debate that I do expect schools and school districts to adhere to the responsibility for supervision on playgrounds, and I think they do. The member raises a variety of interesting points. Let me only say this: yes, our schools may provide an opportunity for students to interact with children that they might not interact with outside of school. Frankly, I tend to see that as a positive in our system. I think there are too many elements in our society that tend to ask us to isolate ourselves depending on socioeconomic status or, at times, religion or language or whatever. I think school provides an opportunity for us and for our children to understand the diversity of the cultures and family experiences that we call British Columbia. That's a positive aspect of what schools do. A child that can only interact with those he or she wishes to, I suspect, has had a rather limited education. Surely one of the issues you want to encourage in education is the ability to interact with those that don't see eye to eye with you, that you may have disagreements with, that may have a different view of the world. I see that as a positive aspect of public schools.
V. Anderson: I agree wholeheartedly with that, of course. But I was referring to grade 1 or kindergarten kids, who don't normally play in the midst of a gang of ruffians or whatever. I'm talking about those kinds of situations where normally you would separate yourself out -- not because you disagree with them but because it isn't safe for you or it's a kind of lifestyle you don't agree with or a kind of conversation or language you don't agree with. Those kinds of separating-out take place automatically in the community. But in the schools, you may be forced to be there, where you
But I thank you for your comments, and I appreciate the positive aspects of that, which are, of course, important.
K. Whittred: I would like to go back and address some of the issues surrounding the basic agreement that is before the teachers and trustees at the present moment. I've listened for several days, and what I have been feeling is that we on this side of the House have been put in a position of, if you like, a choiceless choice. We have been told over and over again -- and have been baited to respond -- that we are against this agreement, and therefore we must be against smaller classes for primary education. I see this as sort of a position of blackmail. Like my colleagues -- and this has certainly been thoroughly canvassed -- I see this agreement more as one of political expediency than sound educational practice, as the government is trying to portray.
I'm going to try to illustrate my position in a couple of ways. First of all, the minister, the Premier before him and various other members of the government have all been reading from the same script. We recognize that very much on this side of the House. One of the points that increasingly has been made is that this agreement, which would bring about smaller class sizes and ratios for non-enrolling teachers across the province, provides an equitable educational level across the province. My first question to the minister: is he saying, then, that a grade 1 class in the upper British Properties requires exactly the same resources as a grade 1 class in Lillooet?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The answer is obviously no. There are compositions of classes that differ around the province. What this agreement does is provide us with the opportunity to say: "Here's a baseline -- the line above which we don't think classes should go." Clearly, there will be more resources if you have special needs kids in class or ESL kids in class. There's a huge range of issues out there, hon. member. But we are establishing a baseline. Frankly, I'm puzzled. There are baselines now. The member knows it. With or without flex factors
K. Whittred: Moving on from that, the other way that we can look, I suppose, at equitable resources is not only across the province but also across the grades. The minister used a phrase a moment ago: compositions of classes. I'm going to come back to that in a moment, because that, I think, is a very important aspect of this discussion.
Before that, I perhaps would like to just give you an illustration that will serve to illustrate some of my points. When I left the classroom two years ago, I had a particular grade 9 class. I'll just describe this class to you, because it serves as a kind of base model. This class was 31 students, which was the maximum and still is the maximum for intermediate. Most classes in my school were at maximum. It consisted of a significant number who were barely out of ESL; the vast majority of students in that class would have been, with their families, in this country less than ten years.
Amongst those 31 students were two deaf students. One was profoundly deaf and was accompanied by an interpreter. That student communicated using American Sign Language. So I want you to get the picture here. On one side of me, I had an interpreter interpreting American Sign Language. I had a second deaf student who used the oral method and was also accompanied by an interpreter and used an FM device, which I was required to wear. This somewhat restricted my movement as a teacher, because I had to be in visual contact with that student at all times. As I recall, I had a couple of students on IEPs, and I believe I had three students who were designated behavioral-disordered. So within that mix, I had several different preparations to make and individual students to attend to.
[E. Walsh in the chair.]
I might also point out to the minister that there is a whole body of research, every bit as compelling as the research that supports small classes at the primary level, that supports that grades 8 and 9 are the years where we either lose them or save them. If we don't save them by the end of grade 9, it's almost
[ Page 7733 ]game over. So I would make the argument, although I'm not going to pursue it here today, that class size is equally as important at the grades 8 and 9 level as it is at the primary level -- in fact, perhaps in all levels.
I guess, following that example, my second question to the minister would be
Hon. P. Ramsey: Just to complete the picture of your class
Here's the rest of the picture. For ESL students that are identified by the district, there is an additional $955 to the district for services for each ESL student. The member has already mentioned the substantial support that people suffering from a hearing impairment or profound deafness receive with aids and other devices to assist them in participating fully in an integrated environment. Special needs dollars: severe behaviours are funded at the rate of close to $6,000 per student. So the money we seek to provide for districts does attempt to recognize individual circumstances as much as we can.
I'll say it again: the analysis we see suggests that where you make the most difference, and where class size makes the most difference, is in the elementary grades, and that's what this contract focuses on. By no means is it intended to say that there aren't issues in other areas of the school system.
The Chair: Minister, could I
Hon. P. Ramsey: This agreement focuses on K-to-3. Having said that and noting the time, I move that the committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The committee rose at 11:48 a.m.
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