It is my pleasure to present the third annual report for the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services.
The ministry's goal is to support strong, healthy and secure communities. We have the widest range of programs in government to help us deliver on this commitment. Ministry staff work in partnership with communities, non-profit groups, the private sector and other levels of government to serve British Columbians in many diverse areas.
In 2003/04, we passed the Community Charter, creating the most empowering local government legislative framework in Canada. The Charter provides for greater accountability to citizens and better services for taxpayers. This is important because strong local government is a key to building a strong British Columbia.
We are equally proud of our other achievements. Over the past year, we celebrated with thousands of British Columbians the announcement that this province will host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. In addition, the Office of the Fire Commissioner worked tirelessly throughout the summer, supporting emergency crews as they battled the worst forest fires in the history of BC to protect communities in the Interior and southeast.
Strong communities must build for the future. The provincial government's support for infrastructure, local government and libraries continued to provide an important means for municipalities and regional districts to meet the needs of their communities.
The ministry also continued to attract qualified immigrants in areas facing skill shortages. The Provincial Nominee Program, which has received almost 600 applications since its inception in March 2001 — of which over 500 were nominated — registered a 34 per cent increase in nominations this fiscal year.
Strong communities also need strong links with the past. The provincial
government took a big step to protect and promote Aboriginal languages
in 2003/04 with the introduction of FirstVoices.com,
a unique high-tech tool designed to preserve this important component
of BC's culture. Within the Heritage Branch, the ministry negotiated
local management agreements at 19 heritage sites. Local managers
will be best able to respond to the needs of their communities and
can embark on more flexible marketing plans to help keep heritage
sites vital and thriving.
Affordable housing is another important component of strong communities. During this last year, the province, through BC Housing, was successful in providing 1,230 new units of affordable housing to respond to the needs of vulnerable British Columbians.
The ministry also worked to increase child care options for families. Funds for expansion and renovation of child care centres nearly doubled (from $1.5 million to $2.5 million this year). Improvements to the funding allowed more Heartlands communities to qualify.
Ministry initiatives throughout the year helped to support strong, safe and secure communities, maximizing benefits to British Columbians and making the most effective use of taxpayers' dollars. Through strong communities, we are building a strong, prosperous British Columbia.
Honourable Murray Coell
Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services
Message from the Minister of State
In my new role as Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services, I am committed to helping build strong, safe and secure communities for seniors and for women and children escaping violence. These commitments are reflected in the work the ministry has completed in 2003/04.
The provincial government continues to provide $33 million annually for transition houses, second-stage housing, safe homes and counselling programs for women experiencing abuse and children who have witnessed abuse. In January 2004, the ministry provided $780,000 in capital grants to transition houses around the province, supporting improvements from new floors, to security systems, beds, fridges and stoves — so that women in these houses will be safer, more comfortable and more secure.
Housing is critical for women escaping violence. That's why the ministry provided $560,000 for long-term solutions to homelessness in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Twenty-five thousand dollars in funding to the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC helped to start a new loan program to help women leaving transition houses buy co-op shares. Through BC Housing, the ministry also provided funding support for a safe house for sexually-exploited women in Kelowna.
This past year, the Premier announced my appointment as Minister of State for Seniors' Services. Seniors make up an important segment of this province. Just over half a million British Columbians are over the age of 65. That's nearly 14 per cent of the total population. Seniors are the fastest growing part of our population. It is estimated that our senior population will nearly double by the year 2030.
This year, I started meeting with seniors so that I can better understand their diverse needs and viewpoints. In future, I will be making recommendations to government on how we can better meet the needs of our aging population.
Minister of State for Women's and Seniors' Services
Message from the Deputy Minister
I am pleased to acknowledge the accomplishments that this ministry has made over the last year. We have undergone a number of changes ministry-wide, including the transfer of the Sport and Physical Activity, 2010 Olympic Games Secretariat and Culture branches to the Ministry of Small Business and Economic Development, and the transfer from the Ministry of Competition, Science and Enterprise of the Business Immigration Office, consolidating all immigration responsibilities into one ministry.
The Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services has a wide-ranging scope which encompassed eight departments with over 40 programs in 2003/04. Over the last year, we have had our share of highlights and challenges ranging from winning the right to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver to battling forest fires in the Interior and southeast of British Columbia.
The enactment of the Community Charter earlier this year marked a milestone for the ministry. Significant progress was also made towards ensuring the safety of all British Columbians with the development and implementation of the province's new safety system. The ministry completed the Safety System Transformation Project; consolidated the Safety Standards Act and regulations; created a new information technology system; and established the BC Safety Authority. In addition, the province's railway safety framework was modernized and harmonized with national standards through the Railway Safety Act.
I would like to thank the staff of the ministry for their dedication and effectiveness. We will continue to build on these attributes to provide quality service to the British Columbia public.
Deputy Minister of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services