Thursday, October 3, 2013
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services (SCFGS) clarified Wednesday that it is the first of many opportunities for the public to provide input on the Core Review currently being undertaken by the British Columbia government.
There was confusion over the past week as Hon. Bill Bennett, Minister responsible for the Core Review, seemingly caught the Committee members off guard when he announced in a letter to government Ministers that the Committee was responsible for accepting the public input.
On Wednesday October 2, 2013, BC Green Party Interim-Leader, Adam Olsen presented to the SCFGS Committee in Nanaimo, seeking clarification to this confusion. (See full draft Hansard transcript attached.)
Dan Ashton, Chair of the SCFGS, said “For some clarification, yes, you can put the input. We have had a brief discussion among some of the members here, including the Clerk's staff, so I am more than prepared to accept the dialogue and the opportunity for people like yourself bringing it forward.”
“I outlined several issues with the process for the public to provide input in the Core Services review, including the lack of proper notification and clarity on the process,” said Adam Olsen, Interim-Leader of the BC Green Party. “It is important British Columbians know that this is only one opportunity for their voices to be heard.
The Finance and Government Services Committee will not be the only opportunity for British Columbians to provide input in to the process.
“As the parliamentary secretary, and I have spoken to the minister today…. There is going to be ample opportunity for public input into the core review services,” Ashton continued. “You have to understand that it is only starting at this point in time and carries on until 2014. So through your local MLAs and, I'm quite sure, through other public processes, there will be ample opportunity. But anything that is said today will be discussed by this committee and, upon agreement of the committee, will be included in the report that will be going to the Legislative Assembly.”
Olsen’s statement to the committee stated, “The government can fix this problem by creating a transparent process that informs British Columbians of their opportunity to be heard. I encourage the government to do this. I encourage the government to be clear in the mandate of that process. The core review is not about saving the government money; it's about saving the taxpayers of British Columbia's money.”
The BC Green Party is encouraged by the clarification on the core review input process from the SCFGS. However, as the timeline is compressed to December 31st 2013, and the committee has already visited many locations across the province, it is imperative the government provides every opportunity for public input. We are committed to working with the government to ensure British Columbians are aware of their opportunities to be heard.
Interim-Leader, BC Green Party
Hansford transcript - draft. Final version to come.
D. Ashton (Chair): Appreciate it, thank you. Next we have Adam Olsen. Sir, thank you very much for coming. Ten minutes for presentation. I'll give you a two-minute warning close to ten. Then we have five minutes for questions. The floor is yours.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, committee. [A First Nations language was spoken.] I would like to acknowledge Kwulasultun, the Chief Douglas White. It's an honour to be here in his territory, the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw.
Thank you for this opportunity to present to the Finance Committee. My name is Adam Olsen. I'm a resident and former councillor of the district of Central Saanich, member of Tsartlip First Nation and the interim leader of the BC Green Party.
I'm here today because of some confusion that has ensued after a government press release sent out last week that identified this committee as the body responsible for accepting input for the government's core review process. Attached to the press release was a letter to the ministers dated September 24, where the Minister Responsible for Core Review, Hon. Bill Bennett, states that under phase 3 implementation "the public will have an opportunity to provide input to core review as part of the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services' 2014 budget consultations being undertaken in September and October 2013." He continues to state that "effective public and stakeholder communications will be an important element of our approach."
Two days later on September 26, 2013, Kathleen Gibson and Linda Geggie made a presentation to this committee. I read the Hansard transcript, and it appears that even members of this committee were surprised that this was the forum to receive public input on the core review process.
I've reviewed the terms of reference for this committee on the Legislative Assembly of B.C. website and note that nowhere in those terms does it give a specific mandate to this committee to receive input on the core review.
The mandate of this committee is established by the Legislature, as I'm sure you all know, and I've read the budget consultation paper 2014. I've also noted that nowhere in that document does it speak directly to this committee's direct involvement in the government's core review process. That said, I understand that your mandate is broad and generally open to interpretations of the members of this committee.
Although you do not take specific direction from cabinet, I am aware that as a committee you have some freedom to include the core review in your consultations. The core review is a separate government-led initiative that will ultimately have an impact on the budget and on future budgets.
I'm here today to seek some clarification to the confusion that has occurred. I'm hoping this committee will clarify its mandate and let the public know whether you are the body responsible for receiving information from the public and reporting to the Minister Responsible for Core Review.
If the press release is correct and the committee decides that its mandate is to include receiving public input on the core review, then I wanted to be here today to be on the record stating that I have some significant concerns. My concerns encompass those who have presented previously and who have been told they are presenting to the wrong body or those who were not adequately informed that this was the forum for sharing their voice.
If this is the appropriate process, then I would state that it's inadequate. It fails the government. It fails the stakeholders, many of whom are our investors in the numerous ministries and ABCs — or agencies, boards and commissions. And it fails the people of British Columbia.
It's fine for the government to look for money. In my opinion, I do not celebrate the core review. It should be part of the culture of our civil service to save British Columbians money where possible, to streamline processes, to reduce waste and duplication. To me, that should be standard practice, not a big deal.
While the core review is broad in nature, looking at all the government ministries, I'm going to focus on one specific issue that consumed my life as a district councillor: agriculture.
Minister Bennett in a July 31 Vancouver Sun article said: "We're going to look at some sacrosanct things, like certain agencies. We're going to look at the agricultural land reserve and the agricultural land commission."
This statement raised the eyebrows of many people. As a former councillor in the district of Central Saanich, my experience is that the agricultural land reserve and Agricultural Land Commission dominate the public — and especially the in-camera agendas. I want to focus on the in-camera agendas, because they're very critical to the life of our community.
When the minister responsible was quoted as saying that he's going to look at the ALR and ALC, he had to know that this was going to be potentially contentious. The government has stated that the public was going to be provided an opportunity to provide input. But what is that process? The government has a duty to consult its citizens — consult the stakeholders, the investors, the municipalities like Central Saanich that have 60 percent of their land inside the ALR. None of this has happened. To my understanding, Central Saanich has not been contacted for its input.
As you all know, the issue of food, food security and agricultural land continue to be a very sensitive topic in this province. Frankly, I'm disappointed in this process that has evolved over the last number of weeks. According to the committee calendar, these hearings began in Vancouver on September 20. It wasn't until the 24th of September that Minister Bennett outlined in his letter to his colleagues that this was also the process to receive public input on the government's core review.
Although I was not at the committee meeting where Gibson and Geggie presented, it was clear from reading Hansard that members of this committee had not been notified of your expanded mandate. What is even more concerning is that the Chair, Mr. Ashton, didn't necessarily have a clear response. If the members of this committee are not clear on the process, how can the government be confident that the public is clear on how to provide input to the core review — if that's what the government is wanting to do?
In addition, the ad used to promote this public consultation does not mention that this is the forum for public input on core review. In the minister's own words: "Effective public and stakeholder communications will be an important element of our approach." Certainly, the government does not believe that this process has exemplified "effective public and stakeholder communications."
I had to drive from Victoria to Nanaimo to present today. If the process was clear, I would have presented in Victoria last week.
It is important to repeat the words of Geggie: "We must have proper public consultation in the core review. The land reserve is very important to British Columbians. Over 95 percent support it as a mechanism to protect farmland. If we're going to make significant changes to it, we need to be aware and part of the discussion."
I have a four- or five-year history with the agricultural land reserve. It's not perfect. There are lots of issues with it. I don't mind having a discussion about it. I don't necessarily believe that this should be the form we that have or open that discussion.
Specifically to the Budget consultation paper, 2014, which you are accepting input on, I will make a very brief statement. I'm hoping that in coming years, the direction of this government will be to strengthen the ALR and the ALC within its current mandate, to preserve agricultural land and to encourage farm business. The industry of agriculture could be very profitable for this province.
I encourage the government to reinvest in enforcement and to limit the non-agricultural activities on agricultural land that have been increasing over the past few years. The ALC and the ALR do a great job in protecting the zoning. It has not addressed the economics of farming, and that's what we've struggled with in Central Saanich.
If this is the process that has been established to collect input on the future of agriculture in British Columbia, then I question the integrity of the information that you will receive. Look, I'm hoping the provincial government provides a transparent and formal forum to accept input and feedback to the public on the core review and, specifically, the future of agriculture in our province. The discussion about agriculture is far too important and complex, and this accelerated process is clearly insufficient.
It's not too late. The government can fix this problem by creating a transparent process that informs British Columbians of their opportunity to be heard. I encourage the government to do this. I encourage the government to be clear in the mandate of that process. The core review is not about saving the government money; it's about saving the taxpayers of British Columbia's money.
Hychka. Thank you again for this opportunity. In future years we will use this public hearing. As a party we will use this public hearing to provide input into the budget process. It is our hope that, going forward, the government is comfortable consulting with us on future budgets.
In future years we will use this public hearing, as a party. We will use this public hearing to provide input into the budget process. It is our hope that going forward the government is comfortable consulting with us on future budgets.
D. Ashton (Chair): Thank you for your comments. For some clarification, yes, you can put the input. We have had a brief discussion among some of the members here, including the Clerk's staff, so I am more than prepared to accept the dialogue and the opportunity for people like yourself bringing it forward.
As the parliamentary secretary, and I have spoken to the minister today…. There is going to be ample opportunity for public input into the core review services. You have to understand that it is only starting at this point in time and carries on until 2014. So through your local MLAs and, I'm quite sure, through other public processes, there will be ample opportunity. But anything that is said today will be discussed by this committee and, upon agreement of the committee, will be included in the report that will be going to the Legislative Assembly.
A. Olsen: I thank you for the clarification. It looks like I'll be meeting with Mr. Holman sometime in the near future.
D. Ashton (Chair): Okay. That's fine.
G. Holman: Adam, thanks, and I'm sure we will. Just in terms of your concluding remarks about the importance of the ALR and the ALC and, hopefully, strengthening them rather than weakening, I just, for the record, have a lot of sympathy with that view.
I guess I do have — for the committee, this isn't about core review — concerns that the objectives of the core review, depending on the particular service that you're talking about, the particular government program you're talking about, may not be appropriate. Those objectives may not be appropriate, specifically with respect to the ALR and the ALC, because I think the objectives of that designation and that body are maybe somewhat different than the objectives that have been laid out for core review. They may be apples and oranges.
There is, as I understand, provision in the process to make a recommendation about which programs and services perhaps should be omitted from the core review for various reasons. That's something to consider. I don't think this committee necessarily will be making a specific recommendation on that, but that's my personal view, for the record.
A. Olsen: Thank you. My direction today was to simply be on the record with that in case this was the opportunity and, hopefully, to get from the members of the government that there was going to be further opportunities in the future, and I think that we were successful in both of those things today.
D. Ashton (Chair): You raised the point well. So thank you.
Thanks, Gary, for your comment.
A. Olsen: Thank you, Mr. Ashton. Thank you, members of the committee. Appreciate it.
D. Ashton (Chair): Have a safe trip today.