Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


May 28, 2010

Comments on Bill 20 — Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3).

S. Simpson: I'm pleased to have an opportunity to take my place for a few minutes and to talk to Bill 20, the Miscellaneous Statutes Amendment Act (No. 3), introduced in this Legislature. 

As my colleagues have said, there are a number of members who are looking for the opportunity to speak. We know we have limited time, so I will focus my comments on a couple of very specific sections of this piece of legislation which, as the minister has said, covers a wide variety of legislation that it makes changes to. 

I guess at the outset what I would like to do is say how relieved I am — and I know that the members on this side and many, many British Columbians are relieved — that the government made the decision to withdraw section 36 from this piece of legislation. Those were the changes to the children and youth act that would have seriously restricted and limited the children's commissioner's access to information related to cabinet documents. 

We know that came following a court decision — where the representative was required to go to court in order to protect the access of her office, and succeeded in that — and, of course, Mr. Hughes's comments in a letter to the Premier and the minister. 

Now, as we've heard from the Attorney General, there has been resolution reached today, with the intervention of Mr. Hughes, in order to find a solution that, it appears, will be satisfactory to all parties. So we can be happy that the access of the representative has been protected, the integrity of that has been protected, and she will be able to continue to do the excellent job that she's been doing for the people of British Columbia. 

I want to speak to one other section before I get down to an area that relates much more specifically to my critic area, and that's section 37 of the bill. What section 37 of the bill essentially does is that it takes the endowment lands at the University of British Columbia, removes them from any oversight of Metro Vancouver — the regional district — and puts all of that control into the hands of the Minister of Community and Rural Development. 

This is of great concern, I know, to people in the Metro area. It should be of great concern to anybody who looks at questions around democratic process, because this is, among other things, a question of democratic process. 

UBC has always been an anomaly of sorts. It sat, to some degree, certainly outside of the city of Vancouver. Even though the city of Vancouver supplies many of its services, it sits outside the city of Vancouver. It has had — at least to some degree, as an electoral district — some relationship or some legislated relationship to the rest of the regional district, through Metro Vancouver and through the relationship that happens there. That relationship is particularly important when it comes to issues of land use planning. 

What we know…. Vancouver prides itself as, and continually rates as, one of the best cities in the world. And that's not just the city of Vancouver proper; that's a regional recognition, I believe, for the work that's been done in the region and many areas of the region. That often deals with questions of livability, of sustainability — of those matters. 

Part of the success of that, without doubt, has been a very vigorous planning regime within the city of Vancouver that looks at livability and quality-of-life issues, but also, within Metro Vancouver, the livable region plan and the sustainable region initiative. All of those efforts have been aimed by the region, very clearly, at ensuring the livability, the sustainability, of this region and how it unfolds and how it plays out. 

UBC is a pretty important piece of that mix, particularly as you see the accelerated growth and development that's happening at the university. So now, instead of obliging the university to engage with the rest of the region, the university has a pass on that and is able to deal directly with the minister. 

Now, I respect the minister, and I respect the work that he will do, but the bottom line is that he's not elected by the people in that community. He doesn't have any connection to that community, not just as an individual MLA — I'm sure that he can kind of get up to speed on that — but in terms of that position. It really has little connection to that community. 

We know that local governments provide the best opportunity for people to be able to engage, to make representations, to talk about development, to find solutions on questions and issues of development within any given area. There is no assurance that that process is going to happen now with section 37, which makes these changes related to UBC. 

What the people who are residents there, probably more than anything, have been calling for in that area is actually looking for some way that they get some kind of representative government, some way that they get some kind of say over who makes those decisions for them. 

It's not good enough for the president of UBC to say that this is a threat to academic freedom. I think that it's a stretch, to say the least, to suggest that land use planning and development questions are a threat to academic freedom. 

This is about livable communities and the livability of these communities, about how the people who are resident there and the surrounding neighbouring communities are impacted and about how you work in some collaborative fashion. 

This particular change here under section 37 is retrogressive, as far as I'm concerned. It takes away from the livability of the community. It takes away from the planning in that community, and that's an issue. When we talk about sustainability, when we talk about climate issues, which the government speaks about, what we know is that 80 percent of the challenge related to climate is in our urban areas. That's where we need to pay attention and focus our attention, and this seems to take away from the ability to engage citizens in that discussion in a meaningful way. 

It's an issue that has been questioned both by people outside of that community, who are concerned about it, and also by people who are very well respected both in the UBC community and in the planning community — people like Dr. Setty Pendakur, who have raised issues around how this will unfold and what those impacts will be. This is a section that I look forward to us having a chance to speak about more in committee stage to try and get some sense of why the government thinks that this makes sense, that this is intelligent policy-making when it comes to that issue. 

I want to now move on to one particular area that focuses in my critic area around Housing and Social Development, and that's primarily in the gaming area. There are a couple of other sections there. We will have some questions in relation to those when we get to committee stage, but there are significant changes related to gaming and gaming control in Bill 20. 

The first area is an area that I think raises a much broader question about the viability of horse racing in British Columbia. There are significant changes here. These are changes that largely pull horse racing out of control under Lotteries, will create a stand-alone organizational structure that will — as it appears by the legislation, and we'll confirm this — move the money that currently goes in through Lotteries and into general revenues. It will no longer go there. Those dollars will, in large part, go into an industry-based committee. 

Now, we know that the Minister of Housing and Social Development has spoken to this. Industry officials have spoken to this. We know the horse-racing industry is in some trouble. We know there's talk about consolidation of thoroughbreds and standardbreds together in one operation and discussion about where it makes sense to do that. 

We know the application of slot machines at Hastings Park and other facilities was expected and was hoped…. It certainly was the claim of the proponents that this would be the saving grace of horse racing by drawing all of those extra dollars, slot machine dollars, into the racetracks. It would allow them to increase the size of purses, would allow them to be able to create a thriving industry. We know those slot machine operations are not generating the kind of dollars that were anticipated, and we know that the horse-racing industry has some considerable challenges. 

So there are questions about what this new entity looks like that the minister has been talking to people in the industry about. How will they make decisions? What are the plans? I think what we need to do is recognize that this piece of legislation here…. The changes in Bill 20, as they relate to horse racing, are meant to generate the revenues and the resources for that entity, whatever that is, to be able to move forward — presumably to try to save and put horse racing back on a sound footing in British Columbia. 

I do look forward to being able to have a discussion with the minister in regard to what those plans look like and how, in fact, the community will have some ability to have some discussion around this. I know that in my constituency, where Hastings Park racecourse is, the thoroughbreds racecourse, there are lots of people who enjoy the thoroughbreds there. But there's always a discussion about what that future looks like. 

Certainly, I know that if the thinking of the government and the industry is to consolidate both the standardbreds and thoroughbreds at one location, and possibly at Hastings Park, the community will want to have an opportunity to be part of a discussion about what the implications of that are. 

A big part of this has to be: who is this entity that's going to be making these recommendations or decisions? How do they engage the community? What controls are on them in terms of their decisions? What role does Vancouver have in these decisions as a municipality, and what impositions does the provincial government plan to put in place in order to protect that industry? We will learn more about that as we move forward. 

One of the other issues that relates to gaming is certainly in the area of problem gambling. One of the things this legislation looks to do is for people who are in voluntary self-exclusion programs as gamblers, people with gambling problems and addictions, will be to remove their ability to claim winnings. That is an approach that has been used in some other jurisdictions with some effect. 

We'll have to have a discussion more about what this all means and what the intentions of these changes are. As we've learned as very recently as last week, there is a huge problem in British Columbia around the program, the voluntary self-exclusion program, around how the government deals with problem gambling. Those problems relate both to, I believe, the 30 percent cut, the one-third cut in support for programs for problem gambling, but equally what has been clearly shown, not just in British Columbia but also in Ontario and Alberta, are the problems around enforcement on the voluntary self-exclusion programs. 

These programs haven't worked. We've now had incidences with people in British Columbia who have come forward and said: "I've been on a voluntary program for 18 months. I have an addiction. I'm in the casino every weekend almost, and play for hours and hours and have bet thousands and thousands of dollars, and nobody's ever kicked me out." 

There are doctors, addiction counsellors who have also raised those issues around that, so we do know that it is a big, big problem. They have seen similar problems in Ontario. In Ontario there have been at least 12 court cases related to this — nine of which have been settled, but three that haven't — around people who are on voluntary exclusion programs. But because the enforcement was weak, they in fact were continuing in the casinos and continuing to play. 

Now, as I understand it, they're moving forward here and proceeding with what is a class action suit in Ontario around Ontario Lottery and Gaming, a $3½ billion class action suit on behalf of 10,000 people who are in the self-exclusion program and who feel that they're not receiving the support that they need. 

Part of what the challenge is, and experts out of Alberta and elsewhere have talked about this, is that what happens is that people who have that addictive nature, particularly when it relates to gambling, of course sign up for this program. When they sign up for the self-exclusion programs, they are under the expectation that in fact they're going to get some assistance. They're going to be helped to not go and be in casinos. The problem is that because of lax enforcement issues, it's not occurring, and they are continuing to be in there. 

Dr. Jennifer Melamed, who is a physician in the Lower Mainland and an addictions specialist, has spoken about some of her patients. Her comment in the media the other day, and it was in reference to the program, was that: "If you say you're going to keep them out, then keep them out. If you're saying it's a scam or a farce and it's not going to work, then tell the patients up front." 

What we need to do is have a program that works. I know this piece of legislation does appear to be putting in place a piece around removing the ability of people to gain winnings, and that's one piece. But the critical piece here is: how do we make sure we keep people out of the casinos? I look forward to the opportunity to discuss that further. 

Also, the piece that I don't see here and that we'll look forward to exploring with the minister is how the programs will be improved for problem gambling as it relates to electronic gambling — to the Internet and Internet gambling. 

We know the government recently increased gambling limits from $120 a week to $9,999 per week that people can gamble on the Internet. They've increased the variety of programs and games that can be played that now will be much more appealing. 

The government has an obligation to deal with that because, as we've been told by experts, Internet gambling is potentially the most problematic area for people who have an addictive nature. There are also great concerns there that it will appeal to young people — by young, I mean 25 or so — who may not be inclined to want to go to a casino but are very comfortable on their iPhone, on their Blackberry, on their computer using those types of tools to engage. 

If that engagement includes gambling, then we need to look at how those programs work, too, and I look forward to asking the minister and talking to the minister about how that proceeds. 

The last comment I want to make, because we are running out of time here, is on issues around gaming security. We know that the government removed the illegal gambling team for illegal gambling facilities. There has been, certainly, some question around that. 

There continue to be issues around to what degree organized crime tries to make use of legal gambling either in order to be able to launder money or around loansharking. The legislation purports to improve and strengthen some of those activities to be able to control that more clearly. We will be looking to get some answers on that. 

Also, on the liquor side, it appears to be an easing up of the relationship between liquor and gambling. There are some concerns there, and we'll be looking for some answers about what exactly the intentions of the government are there. 

People have speculated on — I have no idea whether it's warranted or not — if we'll end up in British Columbia with a situation like Vegas, where casinos have the ability to give away free drinks to people in casinos, those kinds of things. That speculation out there — we'll be looking for affirmations from the minister that there is no intention for those things to occur. 

With that, I know there are lots of other people to speak, and I will take my place. 

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