VICTORIA - British Columbia's Liberal government introduced its long-awaited plan to create a senior citizens advocate Wednesday as part of a flurry of legislation that included amending the Clean Energy Act to accommodate liquefied-natural-gas proponents and officially honour Pacific salmon as the provincial fish.
Fifteen pieces of legislation — the majority of which are amendments to existing laws — were included in the miscellaneous statutes bill and the new Seniors' Advocate Act, a year-old promise following a highly critical seniors-care report by Ombudsperson Kim Carter.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said B.C.'s seniors advocate will be the first of its kind in Canada, and the advocate will work in collaboration with seniors.
MacDiarmid said the advocate will monitor seniors services and work collaboratively to identify solutions to systemic issues and make recommendations to government.
But the Opposition New Democrats, who have previously introduced private members bills to create a seniors advocate position, said the Liberal version raises concerns about the independence of the advocate, its mandate and how the position is funded.
"There's concerns," said seniors critic Katrine Conroy. "It's one step closer, the legislation is finally here after six years. There's concerns around this legislation and how it's been presented and how it's going to be funded."
Conroy said the NDP will likely support the seniors-advocate law in the hope it can amend it in the future.
MacDiarmid said the seniors advocate will serve as a trustee of the legislature and have the independence to review issues. She said she didn't expect the advocate to conduct investigations of individual cases.
"We're not anticipating that individual concerns will be taken up by the advocate," she said.
Last February, former health minister Mike de Jong announced a seniors-care action plan partly in response to Carter's report and its 176 recommendations
He said the government will focus on six areas of change, which include establishing a seniors advocate to ensure a more accessible and transparent approach to seniors care in B.C.
A series of tragic incidents involving senior care in B.C., including the discovery of a 71-year-old man found weighing about 25 kilograms in a Penticton motel, prompted the government to create the advocate position.
Other amendments introduced under the government's sweeping miscellaneous bill included plans to promote schools as after-hours day-care sites, extend medical services plan coverage for B.C. residents who take long-term vacations and offer more protection for children exposed to domestic violence.
Those initiatives are included in proposed amendments to the School Act, Medicare Protection Act and Child, Family and Community Service Act.
NDP environment critic Rob Fleming said the government's proposed amendments to the Integrated Pest Management Act break Premier Christy Clark's promise to ban pesticide use in gardens and lawns.
"This is a key commitment she made and she's failed to deliver," he said.
The proposed amendments give the environment minister authority to reduce pesticide use for cosmetic purposes but doesn't ban their use.
The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment said the government must ban pesticide use in lawns and gardens.
"This bill goes in exactly the wrong direction," said spokesman Gideon Forman.
The proposed amendments to the Clean Energy Act will allow the government, BC Hydro and LNG proponents until August 2013 to offer more detailed plans for the province's future electricity needs.
The prospect of as many as five LNG export plants operating in northwestern B.C. by the end of the decade will result in expanded hydroelectric power needs even if some of the plants are permitted to use natural gas as their major power source.
The miscellaneous bill also proposes amendments to the Forensic Psychiatry Act, Forest Act, Interpretation Act and Statute Revision Act, Land Act, Liquor Control and Licensing Act, Representative for Children and Youth Act and the Vancouver Bible Institute Enabling Act.
The Liberals also propose to amend the Provincial Symbols and Honours Act to elevate the salmon to provincial fish.
B.C. already has a provincial flower, mineral, tree, bird and mammal, and now the government will move to make the Pacific salmon the provincial fish emblem in recognition of its high ecological, cultural and economic significance.
An additional piece of proposed legislation was introduced by Independent MLA Bob Simpson who wants B.C.'s fixed election date to be changed from the spring to the fall in time for the 2017 vote.