The Legislature resumed sitting in Victoria this week after a two week break for the Olympics. The goodwill generated by the event and the all the athletes’ victories lasted a few hours, with both sides of the House acknowledging how well everyone had done.
And then we got to our first question period in more than a fortnight and were able to resume where we had left off – asking the minister of education why she was short-changing our province’s future by under-funding the education system.
In our own area three more schools are set to close: in Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Woss. But all the school districts: on the West Coast and SD 72 – Campbell River, Sayward and the Islands – are struggling with too little money and too many costs downloaded from the provincial to the local level. The present funding system allocates a certain dollar amount for each student which nowhere near covers the real cost of education especially in rural areas. The money school districts receive simply does not cover the range of costs which includes such new items as rising MSP premiums and becoming carbon neutral.
I believe that the under-funding of the system is part of the government’s agenda: people who can afford it will turn away from the public delivery of education to private schools if they feel they will get a better service. And in the Throne Speech there were clear references the BC Liberals plan to bring the private sector into the public education system.
I was able to give my official response to that speech on Monday. In it I questioned the government’s hardline, privatisation philosophy, and the way it undermines the public good. I also raised the need for a vision for our province – a vision for a truly sustainable future. As I mention in my speech (which can be read in full here
) sustainable is an overworked word, but if we address all our actions, including policy development and investment and development criteria, through the lens of sustainability, looking at the impact we have on our environment, our communities and our shared resources, we can start to make a difference.
Moving to a resilient society is not easy, but I look at our communities in the North Island and see how each one individually and mutually is making a shift and I feel heartened. People are starting to realize the need to consume less, to work together, to find ways of ensuring that we live within our environmental means.
However, Tuesday’s budget speech did not give me much hope that the government has learned any of the lessons needed to ensure that we have a more resilient province. As was expected there will be cuts across the board: in forestry, in environment, in front line social services. The details are still coming out as we go through the line by line analysis, but it does not look good for our North Island communities.
The oil and gas sector is getting $282 million in subsidies this year alone; this from a government that claims to be green. But forestry has cuts of 41 percent in compliance and enforcement, so more waste will be left and the big companies will get away with more.
The government will say that education is getting more – but the increase in per student funding does nothing to address the real problem that it is a funding formula which has no relevance for the reality in the classroom.
And of course the government said that the HST will definitely be part of its accounting after July 1st. But strangely it has now said that all the monies from the HST will go towards health care. At the election the HST was officially not on the agenda; after the election it was the one and only thing to revive the economy; and now it is an essential way to pay for health care. I think this government is relying heavily on public amnesia – but we most certainly won’t let them forget the big mistake the introduction of the HST will be.
On Wednesday I, along with a number of my Opposition colleagues, participated in a rally on the Legislature lawns to try to stop the introduction of HST on bicycles, which are presently exempt from PST. Hundreds of cyclists took part, including a number of people from the North Island. As a regular cycle commuter, I was happy to see such a strong show of support for a move which undermines the government’s alleged green agenda and its supposed commitment to health care.
I also had the opportunity to recognize the work that goes on at the Quatse River
Hatchery, and encouraged more people to come to its new visitors’ centre.
We are back in the Legislature next week, when I hope to give my views on the budget, on the record. I welcome your views as well in drafting my response. On this or any other matter, I can always be contacted through the office in Campbell River at 250 287 5100 or Port Hardy at 250 902 0325, or by email at claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca