At the beginning of September I was at the Campbell River Women’s Centre as a steady stream of people came to collect school supplies for their kids. Depending on the grade, they receive a selection of notebooks, binders, pencil cases, rulers and crayons. All the parent has to do is tell the volunteer at the Centre their children’s names and the grades they are entering. They walk away with plastic carrier bags with the start-up supplies.
This year, it was very clear by the turnout that an increasing number of parents are financially squeezed. Many people in Campbell River and throughout the North Island don’t see the recession lifting and now, adding insult to injury, families are faced with HST on school supplies: for example, 12 percent tax on those crayons and the cases to carry them in, on the notebooks and the binders. They may also be faced with paying HST on school clothes now the Liberal government has made the shift to tax clothes by size rather than by age. This means the clothes of a tall teenager or large footed pre-teen will be taxed.
The HST political spin – the petition, the lies, the questions of who knew what and when – has been growing through the summer. But while people are rightly furious at the betrayal, the hard reality is that everything is costing more. It is a regressive tax which, at times such as back-to-school, bites harder than ever.
If we as a society really value public education and see it as a basic right that everyone have access to high quality public education, a government would not even consider being so petty as to charge tax on school crayons. But then we have the BC Liberal government which has made so many cuts to public education, for so long, that it is now common practice for parents to fundraise to ensure their children’s schools have books.
Public dollars need to be invested in public education. We cannot expect school districts to be able to guarantee quality education when more and more financial responsibilities are downloaded on them by the provincial government which simultaneously keeps cutting the funding it provides to school districts.
Carole James was in Campbell River and Courtenay just before the start of the school year to hear the positive work both school districts are doing and to hear some of their concerns. The question of downloading costs was raised in both communities. But the commitment of school trustees to public education, and to public money being directed to public education, was heard very clearly. Carole talked to both Boards as well as others at Timberline in Campbell River and at the Aboriginal Education Council in Courtenay about the imperative of looking at education as an investment in the future of BC rather than a cost to be borne.
At the beginning of September, I hosted the first local economic conference under the Opposition’s Our Province Our Future banner. These conversations, which will be held around the province, are intended to address the economic, social and environmental renewal of BC. Participants from across the region were engaged in an afternoon of discussion on how we evolve a sustainable economy. They looked at the assets we have in our area, what we value and what would be our priorities for the North Island and Province. A report on the proceedings will be produced, posted on the Our Province Our Future website (www.ourprovinceourfuture.bc.ca)
as well as on my website (www.clairetrevena.ca)
. The participants, who came from across the social spectrum, were engaged and constructive and generated interesting ideas and proposals. I thank them for their work.
I also hosted a meeting of the North Island hospital stakeholders, a diverse and committed group of people working to ensure we get a new regional hospital in Campbell River. Following VIHA’s attempts to shut down part of the laboratory at Campbell River hospital and subsequently the announcement that the business plan for our new hospital will take longer to reach government than originally stated, people are anxious to make their concerns known. There is a justified fear that VIHA will continue to try to erode services at our hospital. It was agreed that it is essential to keep the pressure on VIHA to honour its commitment to build a new regional hospital in Campbell River with all the services agreed to by the health authority last May.
September is a busy time for many people. I wish the participants and organisers in the BC Seniors Games in Campbell River and Courtenay, the very best. And for those who care about a bit of exercise and access to education for women I would urge you to join the Women 4 Women run and walk on September 11th at 9.30 at Carihi School, Campbell River. The event raises money for bursaries to help women attend North Island College – once again volunteers have stepped into the breach because of the government’s failure to assist people who may not be otherwise able to access post secondary education.
As a Deputy Speaker of the BC Legislature, I have been invited to participate in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference, which brings together speakers and parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to share ideas and discuss a wide range of issues. This year’s conference, which runs through mid September, includes debate on energy and the environment, natural disaster management, protecting migrant workers, parliamentarians facilitating grassroots projects, and the emerging economic order.
We are still uncertain whether the BC Liberals will call the Legislature back when it is due to reconvene at the beginning of October, as a responsible government would do.
You can always reach me by email at Claire.trevena.mlaleg.bc.ca or through my Campbell River office at 1 250 287 5100, Port Hardy at 1 250 902 0325 or toll free at 1 866 387 5100.
All the best,