Latest poll shows problems for BC Liberals

The old adage of “may you live in interesting times” has never been truer than will be the case for BC politics this Fall. The BC Liberals were on the receiving end of some very disturbing news recently, news that will force them to reconsider many of their policy and funding priorities.

The disturbing news came in the form of the most recent public opinion poll showing that their once commanding lead in terms of voter support had completely evaporated. According to the poll done by Angus Reid, the BC Liberals’ popular support is now trailing the Opposition New Democrats by three percentage points: the BC Liberals had the support of 38 percent of BC voters, while the provincial NDP had the support of 41 percent.

To anyone that had been following the Spring legislative session and some of the subsequent actions of the provincial government over the last several weeks, the decline in popular support for the BC Liberals is not much of a surprise. Premier Campbell seemed to foreshadow his party’s decline in support when he introduced an unprecedented election gag law designed to completely eliminate the ability of any advocacy group to speak out during the 12 months prior to a provincial election. The proposed law so outraged groups on both the left and right that the government was forced to amend it, a move that still imposes harsh restrictions on freedom a speech.

In our sector of post-secondary education, the government blindsided institutions, faculty and students with their announced 2.6% cut to post-secondary operating grants. The surprise in the announcement came from the fact that all of the institutions were in the second year of a three year budget plan, a plan that the government had initiated and argued would provide greater stability. Without any consultation or warning, that plan was completely undermined by the news that close to $60 million in funding would be cut from the post-secondary education system.

The mid-March funding cuts created a groundswell of opposition. Faculty and students signed petitions, organized rallies and intensified the public pressure. They appealed to municipal councils who, in turn, pressed government MLAs and Cabinet Ministers for answers. The Minister of Advanced Education tried to allay fears, but only added to the confusion and sense of outrage. Even the government’s own appointed Board members at various post-secondary institutions found themselves forced to criticize the cuts.

The government’s problems were by no means confined to post-secondary education. Heath care, programs for seniors, school closures in the K-12 system, questions about the effectiveness of the new carbon tax, all these measures were beginning to chafe with the general public.

But it seemed the last straw was the government’s decision to unilaterally increase the salaries of its top-paid deputies and assistant deputies. The increases were staggering: they ranged from 22% to 43%. They provided absolute increases that were greater than the average family income in BC. However, the most galling aspect was that the increases were announced late on a Friday afternoon when the government hoped most British Columbians would not notice. More to the point, they were announced after the Premier had left for Beijing and wouldn’t have to endure tough questions on the home front.

The cumulative effect of these policies has left the government scrambling to find ways to regain popular support. For the first time in their mandate as a government the BC Liberals will have to do something that they have avoided: listen to voters and address their priorities.

And this is where life in BC politics will become very interesting indeed.

The pressure to listen will intensify in the coming weeks. There is a by-election slated for Vancouver Fairview sometime in the early Fall. Pre-budget consultations will begin in the coming weeks. A new school year starts in K-12 and a new semester begins in post-secondary institutions. The full impact of the 2.6% cuts will take effect this semester.

Post-secondary educators plan to take an active role in all of these events because we believe that the government’s approach to post-secondary education needs to change. Hopefully, the latest polling numbers will act as a wake-up call to a government that has tried to ignore good policy and operate unilaterally. BC deserves better and hopefully Premier Campbell is prepared to listen.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.