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Response to Minister of Environment’s cancellation of Cobble Hill Holdings Permit

Response to Minister of Environment’s cancellation of Cobble Hill Holdings Permit
February 23, 2017
For immediate release

VICTORIA B.C. — After years of community members fighting their government over the safety of their drinking water, the B.C. Minister of Environment has cancelled the waste discharge permit for Cobble Hill Holdings, effective immediately.

“I’m glad the Minister has finally pulled the permit, but it’s unfortunate that it took this long. It is egregious that the people of Shawnigan had to take their government to court simply to receive representation,” Andrew Weaver said, Leader of the B.C. Green Party.

Weaver first visited the site with community members and Shawnigan Lake Area Director, Sonia Furstenau, on April 2nd, 2015. During that time Weaver collected water samples which were tested for contamination at the University of Victoria. His initial analysis of the case can be found in a report posted to his website on April 18th, 2015.

Furstenau, B.C. Greens candidate for Cowichan Valley and Deputy Leader of the B.C. Green Party, added, “While I’m thrilled for the residents of Shawnigan that the Minister has done the right thing and cancelled the permit, I remain committed to holding the government to account to ensure the contaminated soil is cleaned up safely. The residents of Shawnigan should be proud of what we accomplished today, but they deserved to see action from their government much sooner.”

Weaver continued, “Sonia Furstenau has shown outstanding leadership on holding the government to account over their dereliction of duty on this file. I’m incredibly proud to have her on the B.C. Greens team. This kind of principled representation is what communities across B.C. deserve and can expect from the B.C. Greens.

“The situation that has unfolded in Shawnigan shows why the government’s professional reliance model is completely inadequate for environmental protection and community safety. Instead of drawing on the technical expertise of the civil service who serve the public interest, the government cut these experts and now relies instead on the judgement of experts hired by corporations with vested interests.

“The Minister does not have a plan for how or even if the contaminated soil will be removed. Who is going to deal the contaminated soils now? Where is it going to go?”

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Media Contact
Mat Wright Press Secretary, Andrew Weaver MLA
1 250 216 3382
mat.wright@leg.bc.ca


Background


MLA Andrew Weaver first visited the site with community members and Shawnigan Lake Area Director, Sonia Furstenau, on April 2nd, 2015. During that time Weaver collected water samples which were tested for contamination at the University of Victoria. His initial analysis of the case can be found in a report posted to his website on April 18th, 2015. Subsequent comment and analysis were published as the situation evolved.

Professional reliance model

In 2001, after the BC Liberals were elected to their first term, they began to cut the size of government. As a direct consequence of government downsizing, technical expertise within the civil service became a casualty. Instead of having technical expertise in house, the government moved towards wide scale use of Professional Reliance in the permitting process. Under the Professional Reliance approach, the Ministry relies on the judgment and expertise of qualified experts hired by a project proponent.

What is particularly important to note is that in March 2014, the Office of the British Columbia Ombudsperson released a scathing report criticizing the Professional Reliance model with respect to streamside protection and enhancement areas. The report, entitled The Challenges of Using a Professional Reliance in Environmental Protection – British Columbia’s Riparian Areas Regulation made 25 recommendations, 24 of which the government agreed to accept. But this acceptance came almost a year after the Ministry of Environment granted SIA their permit.

The government’s approach to follow the Professional Reliance model is fraught with difficulties. The role of the government is to protect the public interest. When government is making decisions solely based on a project proponent’s expert opinion, it is very troubling. Imagine a judge in a court of law only listening to the expert opinion on one side of a case (plaintiff or defendant) and not allowing expert opinion to be submitted from the opposing side.

Bill M221 — School Amendment Act, 2017

Today in the legislature I introduced a private member’s bill entitled Bill M221 — School Amendment Act, 2017. This Bill amends the School Act to require that a by-election be held within one year of school board trustees being removed and an official trustee being appointed to a District Board of Education. This situation arises, for example, when a school board is fired as has occurred in Vancouver School District 39 and North Okanagan Shuswap School District 83. This Bill recognizes the importance of the democratic nature of school boards. It is essential that school boards are elected so that they are accountable to the communities they serve, and so that they reflect the distinct nature of the district they represent.


Text of my Introduction


A. Weaver: It gives me pleasure to move that a bill intituled School Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: This bill amends the School Act to require that a by-election be held within one year of school board trustees being removed and an official trustee being appointed to a district board of education. This situation arises, for example, when a school board is fired.

This bill recognizes the importance of the democratic nature of school boards. It’s essential that school boards are elected so that they can be accountable to the communities they serve and so that they reflect the distinct nature of the district they represent. To this end, this bill would ensure that an appointed trustee cannot be in place for more than one year before an election is held.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M221, School Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Video of my Introduction



Media Release


Weaver introduces bill to require by-elections when a school board trustee is appointed

For immediate release
February 23rd, 2017

VICTORIA B.C. – When a school board is removed and an official trustee is appointed, it is essential that an election be held as soon as possible thereafter, to protect the democratically elected nature of school boards.

Today Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, introduced the School Amendment Act. The bill requires that by-elections be held within one year of school board trustees being removed and an official trustee being appointed to a District Board of Education. This situation arises, for example, when a school board is fired.

“This bill recognizes how important it is that our school boards are democratically elected. School boards that reflect and understand the unique nature of their district are better able to serve their communities,” says Weaver, also the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head.

“Elections ensure that school boards are accountable to their community, and provide for local representation in decision-making.

“If passed, this amendment would protect the democratic nature of school boards by ensuring that an appointed trustee cannot be in place for more than one year before an election is held.”

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Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca

A bill to reform university governance in British Columbia

Today in the legislature I introduced a private member’s bill entitled Bill M222 —University Amendment Act, 2017. The purpose of this bill is to halt the creeping government interference in university governance, an issue I have previously raised in the past.

The independence of a University Board is critical. The purpose of a university is to educate people who can critically assess information to allow them to participate in an informed manner in a democracy. It’s a place that allows for innovation and creativity to flourish. It’s not a place for government to drive a top down imposition of its ideology. Unfortunately, under existing legislation the government has the potential to interfere in ways that could undermine that autonomy.

The Auditor General’s February 2014, University Board Governance Examinations report specifically notes:

The governance of universities is unique in that they have two governing bodies: the Senate
and the Board of Governors. The Senate operates in an autonomous manner from Government due to its academic responsibilities. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, has an accountability relationship with the Ministry of Advanced Education, as well as an important linkage between the university, Senate, and the local community.

The current composition of the Senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This also harms the ability of the Senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government.

The potential of political interference is unacceptable for our institutions of higher learning. My hope is that the government takes my suggestions for solving this issue seriously and takes action on this issue immediately to preserve the independence of our academic institutions.

Below I reproduce the text and video of the speech I gave as I introduced the bill. I also include the accompanying media release.


Text of my Speech


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled University Amendment Act, 2017, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: It gives me great pleasure to be introducing a bill termed the University Amendment Act. Universities in the province of British Columbia serve a key role in an economy that is that increasingly driven by knowledge, information and ideas. Academic freedom is a fundamental tenet for a culture of learning to succeed and a key part of academic freedom is found in the right to participate in the university governance.

While the role of a board of governors is essential in a university, the governance of a university must also be independent. It is with this in mind that I bring this bill forward today. This bill amends the University Act to ensure that appointees from the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council cannot unilaterally set the tone and direction of a university board through having a majority of votes and that university boards cannot unilaterally appoint a chancellor for the university.

This act also amends the University Act to change the composition, not the powers, of the senate for special purpose teaching universities. The current composition of the senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This harms the ability of the senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government. This bill will bring British Columbia to the same university governance standards employed by much of the rest of Canada.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M222, University Amendment Act, 2017, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Video of my Speech



Media Release


Weaver tables University Amendment Act to protect academic autonomy
For immediate release
February 23rd, 2017

VICTORIA B.C. – Government intrusion in university governance is compromising the credibility of B.C.’s world class academic institutions.

“The purpose of this bill is to halt the creeping government interference in university governance,” says Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party. “While the role of a Board of Governors is essential in a university, the governance of a university must also be independent.

“Universities in our province serve a key role in an economy that is increasingly driven by knowledge, information and ideas. Academic freedom is a fundamental tenant for a culture of learning to succeed and a key part of academic freedom is found in the right to participate in the university’s governance.”

This Bill amends the University Act to ensure that appointees from the Lieutenant Governor in Council cannot unilaterally set the tone and direction of a university board through having a majority of votes, and that university boards cannot unilaterally appoint a Chancellor for their university.

It also amends the University Act to change the composition of the Senate for special purpose teaching universities. As it currently stands, it is possible for the administration (instead of faculty) of these universities to have the majority vote which harms the ability of the senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government.

MLA Weaver tabled a less comprehensive version of this bill last February in response to two significant controversies at B.C. universities. In a subsequent article in the Georgia Strait entitled Arvind Gupta, Andrew Weaver, and the future of B.C.’s Universities, author Charlie Smith detailed how MLA Weaver was in a unique position to address the situation.

– 30 –

Media contact
Mat Wright, Press Secretary
+1 250-216-3382 | mat.wright@leg.bc.ca


Backgrounder


In 2008 the BC Liberals amended the University Act to allow the University Board of Governors to appoint a university’s Chancellor. The BC NDP started this trend in 1997 by allowing the Board of Governors at the Technical University of BC to appoint its Chancellor.

MLA Weaver’s University Amendment Act amends the University Act to reduces the number of board members that the Lieutenant Governor in Council appoints and it empowers the convocation of universities to elect their Chancellor. In doing so, this Act introduces a standard of autonomy for the governance of universities to ensure they are free from political interference in their internal operations.

This Act also amends the University Act to change the composition, not the powers, of the Senate for special purpose teaching universities.

The governance of universities is unique in that they have two governing bodies: the Senate and the Board of Governors. The Senate operates in an autonomous manner from Government due to its academic responsibilities. The Board of Governors, on the other hand, has an accountability relationship with the Ministry of Advanced Education, as well as an important linkage between the university, Senate, and the local community.

The current composition in the University Act of the Senate in special purpose teaching universities can potentially give the administration of these universities the majority vote. This would harm the ability of the Senate to keep the academic autonomy of the university at arm’s length from government. By way of contrast, faculty hold the majority of votes in the senates for research universities. This bill ensures that the Senate composition at special purpose teaching universities is similar to that at research universities.

Fixing a Gap in Adult Education

A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses. I wrote to the Minister of Education to ask that he consider removing the barriers to educational access that his government put in place in May 2015. I received a disappointing response which failed to address the key concerns of the letter.

I subsequently wrote to the Minister of Advanced Education urging him to close a gap in coverage that the policy change had created. When government chose to end funding for high school graduates upgrading  secondary courses, they forced secondary schools to charge tuition to high school graduates. This included public schools, like SIDES or The Link, which offer online classes and are well suited for academic upgrading.

Along with the policy change government introduced the Adult Upgrading Grant, which is administered by the Ministry of Advanced Education and is meant to provide some support for low-income students. However, this grant only covers courses taken at post-secondary institutions and does not include any of the secondary schools which now have to charge tuition to high school graduates. I asked the minister to extend the grant to a more diverse group of schools, in particular to secondary schools which focus on distributed learning and currently have high rates of enrollment for students upgrading courses.

A non trivial component of the government’s surplus has come at the expense of those who can least afford it. Cuts to those seeking to upgrade their high school education to pursue work and educational opportunities do nothing more than perpetuate the poverty trap. British Colombians deserve a government which will make education more accessible for all British Colombians.

Below I reproduce the text of my letter and I will share the response when it is forthcoming.


Text of the Letter


February 12, 2017

Honourable Andrew Wilkinson
Minister of Advanced Education
PO Box 9080 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC
V8W 9E2
Canada

Dear Minister Wilkinson,

I’m writing to you in light of concerns that constituents have brought to my attention regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses.

As you know, in 2015, the provincial government ended funding for students upgrading high school courses, if they have already graduated. Since that policy change, returning students now face a fee, generally $500-$550 per course, to take grade 11/12 course. These fees place an undue burden on individuals, and their families, as they work to expand their professional and academic opportunities.

I have learned that at the South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) in Victoria alone, there are hundreds of students who are unable to afford the fees of upgrading their courses, and thus remain on the waitlist. This does not include the many who don’t even apply to join the waitlist, discouraged from doing so when they learn the cost.

I have written the Minister of Education about my concerns with this policy and am now writing you to outline a specific gap that it has created.

The Ministry of Education still funds high school courses for students who have not graduated. The Ministry of Advanced Education provides support for low-income students who have graduated and are taking high school level courses at one of nineteen post-secondary institutions.

There is, however, no support for students who have graduated high school and are pursuing academic upgrading through institutions other than post-secondary schools. For example, high school graduates attending public schools in Victoria, like SIDES or the Link, are not eligible for tax deductions, reimbursement under RESPs, or the Adult Upgrading Grant.

These two schools specialize in providing a flexible academic environment to accommodate the needs of students. With many returning students are juggling career and family obligations, this an ideal environment for them to return. Attending a school focused on secondary education can also be less jarring return to the education system for many students.

I find it difficult to understand why two students of similar income levels could take equivalent courses that have comparable prices and that only one would receive government support.

As your ministry oversees the Adult Upgrading Grants, I ask that you increase the number of institutions which are approved to administer them. Specifically, I ask that you give public schools that have a focus on distributed learning the ability to authorize these grants.

If you feel that this falls outside the purview of your ministry, then I urge you to coordinate with the Minister of Education and develop a funding program which would achieve the same results.

I fully believe that we should all fund students who pursue academic upgrading, whether or not they’ve graduated. British Columbians have been promised a high school education, and there is more to that than just a diploma. Whether or not someone has graduated, they should be supported as they flesh out their secondary education, seeking to open their mind or opportunities.

At the very least, this government should, fill the gap that has been created by its policy change and provide the Adult Upgrading Grant to a more diverse group of institutions, including specialized secondary schools.

Sincerely,

Andrew Weaver
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head

Expanding Coverage of Insulin Pumps

In 2014 the Ministry of Health made an important decision to fund insulin pumps for British Columbians under the age of 25, with Type 1 diabetes. I recently wrote the Minister of Health, urging him to go farther and eliminate that age requirement in order to cover all British Columbians with the disease.

This is a policy that could greatly increase the quality of treatment for thousands of people. Insulin pumps reduce the likelihood of serious medical complications which can include kidney failure, blindness and amputation. These complications are not only devastating to individuals and their families, they are also incredibly expensive for our health care system. Funding insulin pumps is a cost effective policy that would increase accessibility of treatment and quality of life for thousands of British Columbians. I look forward to the minister’s response.

Below I reproduce the text of my letter and I will share the response when it is forthcoming.


Text of the Letter


January 29, 2017

Honourable Terry Lake
Minister of Health
PO Box 9050 Prov. Govt.
Victoria BC
V8W 9E2

Dear Minister Lake,

I’m writing to ask that you extend BC Pharmacare coverage of insulin pumps to all British Columbians with Type 1 diabetes.

This technology can be life altering for those who deal with diabetes. I’ve heard stories from a number of constituents, all of whom outlined just how significantly their quality of life improved due to the technology. They were not only afforded greater freedom and a peace of mind, they also attribute a number of important health benefits to the devices.

This belief is backed up by a compelling amount of scientific literature. Insulin pumps have a demonstrable correlation with greater metabolic control for people with Type 1 diabetes. This greater metabolic control lowers the chance of serious complication occurring, including blindness, amputation, heart disease and kidney failure. I recognize that the pump is not the appropriate treatment for everyone but it is an important tool to have available for patients and doctors as they work to manage the disease.

Despite the significant benefits which can be derived from the devices, the financial hurdle is simply too high for many. An insulin pump which typically lasts four to five years can cost an average $7000. This is simply too high a price for many to pay. I’ve heard stories of people forced to choose between obtaining the medical treatment they need to manage paying for food or rent.

I recognize the difficult decisions which need to be made in prioritizing drugs for the Pharmacare budget but this therapy has the potential to reduce long term health care costs. As stated earlier, the better insulin management afforded by pumps reduce the chance of associated complications. The loss of sight, of a limb, or of kidney function can have devastating effects on an individual and their family. They are also incredibly costly to our health care system. Studies have indicated that the introduction of an insulin pump program could mean net savings for the health care system, when the decrease in complications is taken into account.

Alberta, Ontario, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories have already made the decision to cover Insulin Pumps for all residents with Type 1 diabetes. In both provinces, government funding supplemented the coverage already provided by private medical insurance, a move which reduced the cost of the program.

Insulin pumps not only an effective tool for patients manage a very dangerous disease, they’re also a preventative and cost effective measure our health care system could implement. This is a forward thinking policy which could lead to better treatment of diabetes for thousands of British Columbians.

In 2014, your ministry made the decision to provide insulin pumps to residents who needed them and were under the age of 25. This was move which gave a great number of people the tools they needed to manage their disease. I urge you to eliminate the age requirement for coverage, and make these benefits accessible for British Columbians of all ages.

Sincerely,

Andrew Weaver
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head