Described as a "clean-up session" by the Minister of Finance and Government House Leader, Gary Collins (Vancouver-Fairview), Members of the Legislative Assembly returned to Victoria on October 2 to continue debate on numerous exposure bills introduced during the spring sitting. As of October 31, 13 Government Bills, three Members' Bills and nine Private Bills have been introduced, making for a total of 100 pieces of legislation debated so far during the Fourth Session. Under the parliamentary calendar, the House will continue to sit until November 27.
One of the more controversial bills brought forward during this sitting was the Skills, Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act, 2003 (Bill 37). This bill amended the Employment Standards Act to establish more flexible rules concerning the employment of children aged 12 to 15, particularly for children employed in the film industry and in family-run businesses. The bill also implemented mandatory penalties for employers who violate employment standards vis-a-vis children. The Opposition decried this component of the bill, claiming that the amendments would result in British Columbia having the weakest child labour laws in Canada.
As well, several bills pertaining to environmental and resource management have been granted Royal Assent during this sitting. The Land Amendment Act, 2003 (Bill 46) enables the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to designate areas of Crown land for various uses, as well as to set management objectives for those areas. The government has announced that these land-use decisions will be made in open cabinet; however, the opposition has expressed apprehension about the prospect of such potentially controversial decisions being made in public.
Bill 57, the Environmental Management Act (2003), replaces two statutes related to environmental and waste management. The government claims that the new legislation will strengthen environmental protection, offer economic incentives encouraging environmentally responsible behaviour, and promote an administrative penalty scheme as an alternative to prosecution. Opposition members, however, voiced concerns that the tiered level of government compliance and oversight upon industry would have serious ramifications for environmental protection.
Building upon changes to forestry legislation passed in the previous sitting, the Forest Statutes Amendment Act (No. 2), 2003 (Bill 44) allows for coordinated timber supply analyses and seeks to improve the effectiveness of the Ministry of Forests' compliance and enforcement programs. Other legislative changes, under the Forest and Range Practices Amendment Act, 2003 (Bill 69), are designed to clarify the designations and objectives for maintaining environmental standards, such as wildlife habitat, areas' community watersheds and water quality objectives. Bill 69 also contains provisions to provide licensees with the means to prepare forest health strategies across timber supply areas.
After reflecting upon the recent flurry of legislation surrounding forest management, the Leader of the Opposition Joy MacPhail (Vancouver-Hastings) claimed that the situation was becoming chaotic, as people who administer, work in, and enjoy, the province's forests are uncertain as to the land-use status.
The passage of the Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Statutes Amendment Act, 2003 (Bill 48) was also seen to be controversial. Bill 48 extends legal support for right-to-farm provisions to those involved in the aquaculture industry. The bill also expands the definition of farmland to include actions conducted over water in conjunction with aquaculture activities, and prohibits municipalities from implementing by-laws to prohibit zoning in prime aquaculture areas.
The functions of municipal governments were also discussed in the debate on the Local Government By-law Notice Enforcement Act, 2003 (Bill 65). …