Fershau, Jonathan, Canadian Parliamentary Review
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). The stated purpose of this bill is to introduce a new model to deal with minor by-law infractions such as parking tickets, while imposing stricter penalties for serious by-law offences. Transitional provisions for the Community Charter have also been introduced under Bill 76, which has been granted Royal Assent.
Introduced in April 2003, the Personal Information Protection Act, 2003 (Bill 38) was also passed during the fall sitting. The bill provides a made-in-BC solution for the need to protect personal information--building upon the federal privacy protection legislation, while simplifying the implementation and regulations. The bill ensures that British Columbia's principles for personal privacy protection are compatible with existing international standards for the collection of data by the private sector.
One of the most active committees this fall has been the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services Committee. Chaired by Brenda Locke (Surrey-Green Timbers), the Committee was asked to report to the House on the public's proposals and recommendations regarding the next provincial budget and fiscal policy. The Committee visited 11 communities in different parts of the province for its annual pre-budget consultations. For the first time, the Committee also made four site visits to learn more about the local situation in resource-dependent communities.
Chaired by Jenny Kwan (Vancouver-Mount Pleasant), the Select Standing Committee on Public Accounts has also been busy during the fall, reviewing the Auditor General's reports on the bid estimates for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and performance agreements in the health care sector. In addition, the Committee has considered reports on the management of contaminated sites on provincial lands, government oversight of multi-employer public sector pension plans, as well as on improving BC's public performance reporting principles.
The Select Standing Committee on Crown Corporations has convened several times the summer and fall to review the service plans and annual reports of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, BC Hydro, BC Utilities Commission, Homeowner Protection Office and the Organized Crime Agency of BC. Chaired by Ken Stewart, (Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows), this committee is currently planning a busy agenda for next year.
The Special Committee on the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform has completed its review the appointments of senior staff for the Assembly. Chaired by Dr. Jack Blaney, the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform is currently in the delegate selection process of its mandate. As reported in a previous issue, the Citizens' Assembly is a historic process in which a committee of citizens deliberates upon which model of electoral system would be best suited to British Columbia. Randomly selected citizens chosen from the provincial voters list reflect the diversity of this province--in terms of age, gender, occupations, and ethnicity. The Citizens' Assembly will hold its first public meeting in January 2004.
Looking ahead, the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act will soon begin its public consultation process. Chaired by Blair Lekstrom (Peace River South), the Committee will review the strengths and weaknesses of the current legislation and consider proposals for legislative amendments.
On October 23, Mr. Collins gave a ministerial statement concerning the delay in payment of wages to forest fire fighters. The statement immediately followed a Question Period debate in which Ms. Kwan asked for an indication as to when the firefighters could expect payment.
On October 27, the Leader of the Opposition raised a point of order concerning procedural matters pertaining to ministerial statements.
Noting that the past custom in the House was to provide both the Speaker and the Opposition with an advance copy of the statement in order to facilitate a timely and appropriate response, Ms. MacPhail requested Speaker Claude Richmond's (Kamloops) guidance on the House rules pertaining to ministerial statements.
Two days later, the Speaker ruled that although the practice was to be encouraged wherever possible, there is no requirement that the Opposition be provided with an advance copy of ministerial statements. The Speaker stated that as the ministerial statement in question dealt with a matter that had just been canvassed in Question Period, prompt replies by the Minister to matters of concern should be encouraged.
Unparalleled natural disasters have hit several regions of the province over the last three months. Massive forest fires in the southern interior and Kootenays prompted both the Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and Prime Minister Jean Chretien, to tour the fire-ravaged areas surrounding Kelowna, Kamloops and Barriere.
In addition, unprecedented rainfall in October produced destructive floods in the Squamish/ Pemberton corridor, southern Vancouver Island and the North Coast. Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo recently toured the devastated areas and offered support to those displaced by the flooding.
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Publication information: Article title: British Columbia. Contributors: Fershau, Jonathan - Author. Journal title: Canadian Parliamentary Review. Volume: 26. Issue: 4 Publication date: Winter 2003. Page number: 44+. © 2009 Canadian Parliamentary Association. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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