New ID cards
The replacement for B.C.’s CareCard will provide online access to medical records, and may also be used to confirm B.C. residence and age while keeping other information private.
Health Minister Mike de Jong announced the new “smart card” plan in May, saying it will also offer the option of doubling as a driver’s licence. The government is phasing out the existing CareCard, mainly because there are 9.1 million cards in circulation and only 4.5 million residents eligible for the Medical Services Plan.
The new cards will have a picture and an electronic chip, and be renewable every five years. Labour, Citizen Services and Open Government Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said the government hopes to start issuing them in 2012.
Amendments to the information and privacy law now before the legislature would allow secure online access by residents and authorized medical professionals, for prescriptions, lab test results and other health records. They may also be used to confirm student status or whether a resident is 19 or over, without releasing other personal information.
Probation options expanding
Attorney General Shirley Bond has introduced changes to B.C. law that add new sentencing options for street disorder, unsafe driving and other provincial offences.
The amendments would allow charges of being drunk in public to be laid under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act instead of the Criminal Code. Offenders could be placed on probation with conditions such as paying for damages, writing an apology and performing community service, and a new offence of breaching a probation order would be available.
Probation options are also being added to existing fines and jail terms for serious Motor Vehicle Act offences such as driving without due care.
For repeated trespass offences, probation would be available with court-ordered conditions to stay away from a specific area, along with the option of community work service instead of fines.
Forest licences ‘streamlined’
The B.C. government has introduced changes to forest harvest licences to simplify operations for energy and mining companies, and loosen land use restrictions for private woodlot owners.
The proposed legislation gives Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Minister Steve Thomson authority to allow woodlot owners to remove private land from woodlot licences. The ministry said in a statement the change will “provide woodlot owners flexibility in managing their assets in changing economic times, and to plan for retirement.”
Cutting permits for oil and gas activities requiring logging are to be extended from five years to 10. Free use permits to allow small amounts of logging to develop a mining claim would have their term extended from one to five years.
Amendments would also allow the direct award of fibre supply licences to allow access to wood waste for biofuel production.
Flathead restrictions imposed
The B.C. government has presented legislation to restrict mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead watershed in southeastern B.C., formalizing an agreement reached with Montana in 2010.
Parallel legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to prohibit mining and gas drilling in the Montana portion of the Flathead basin, after 80 per cent of oil and gas leases issued in the 1980s have been bought out by the U.S. government.
The Flathead watershed is a UNESCO world heritage site that spans the international border, and is next to the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. Governments on both sides have been lobbied for years to extend park boundaries to include the Flathead.
Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett said he supports the protection agreement, because it allows historic uses including recreation, forestry, trapping and guided hunting, which would not be allowed in a park.
Changes to B.C. schools
The B.C. government will provide more money for special-needs support in the province’s public schools, and provide new training for teachers, according to Premier Christy Clark’s first throne speech.
It confirms that the province’s ‘net zero’ negotiation mandate for public sector union contracts will be imposed for the B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), whose contract expired last June.
The BCTF has been refusing non-essential duties since school started in September, and the B.C. Public School Employers Association recently met to consider reducing teacher pay or imposing a lockout in an effort to force a settlement.
The BCTF is demanding wage parity with other provinces and a range of benefit improvements, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce class sizes and increase special-needs support staff.
Education Minister George Abbott said the additional money for special needs support will be in the “tens of millions” over the next three years. Decreasing class sizes by one student across the province would cost $150 million, and research suggests that smaller classes are far down the list of things that improve education outcomes, he said.
The speech promises “additional flexibility and choice” in educating students, adding that “these changes will be bold and represent a significant improvement in how, when and where education takes place.”
Other Throne speech highlights
B.C.’s first Family Day statutory holiday will be Feb. 18, 2013.
To reduce the backlog in B.C. courts, legislation is coming to relax restrictions on part-time work performed by retired judges to provide “surge capacity.”
Prosecutors in Stanley Cup riot cases will ask for TV and radio access to cases, which are expected to start this month.
New legislation is promised to restrict scrap metal sales to deter metal theft.