New poll points to renewed investments in public services
As Finance Minister Colin Hansen prepares to table a revised provincial budget next week, he would do well to consider the results of a mid-August poll done by Ipsos Research. The poll canvassed the views of over 800 British Columbians during the week of August 8-12. It examined a range of fiscal and economic issues, all of which will have a direct bearing on the budget priorities tabled by Mr. Hansen.
While the provincial government has spent much of the last several months announcing cuts to key public services—a $360 million cut in funding to provincial health authorities, the cancelation or elimination of various climate change initiatives and cuts to numerous post-secondary programs such as Literacy Coordinators and Langara’s Advanced Education Media Acquisition program—a strong majority of British Columbians, over 68% in fact, think those cuts are the wrong way to go. Given the government’s approach of pushing through these cuts, it’s not surprising as well that 57% of respondents disapproved of the government’s handling of the economy.
British Columbians polled by Ipsos also held some very strong and progressive views about what they wanted to see in the revised budget. Here are some of the fiscal and economic measures that they would support:
* 75% wanted the minimum wage to increase from $8/hour to $10/hour.
* 86% supported investing in more public services like post-secondary education and re-training programs for unemployed workers.
* 75% opposed cuts to services like child protection, legal aid and provincial parks to balance the budget.
* 61% opposed cuts to spending on environmental protections and enforcement to balance the budget.
* 84% supported increased funding for local health authorities to prevent cuts to health services.
* 85% supported new initiatives to protect and create jobs in British Columbia.
* 76% supported creating a new child care program to help working families.
Another surprising result from the poll was the degree to which respondents supported higher taxes for corporations and BC’s wealthy. Fully 76% of those polled supported these higher measures. Within this group, about two-thirds said they said they would strongly support such a change. It seems BC voters feel that tax fairness has been too often sacrificed at budget time and they want that situation reversed.
For post-secondary educators, the poll shows a number of important results. Initiatives that would improve access to post-secondary education actually recorded stronger nominal support than was the case for health care (it’s important to note, however, that given the margin of error in the poll, the slight nominal lead for post-secondary education simply ranks the two services in a tie for public support). Just as important, the poll found that affordability far outranks all other barriers when it comes to accessing post-secondary education. Over 79% of those polled cited cost and affordability as the main reasons why British Columbians were not enrolling in post-secondary institutions. That number is higher than the 70% figure recorded in a February 2009 poll done for the BC Coalition for Public Education.
Mr. Hansen’s revised budget needs to reflect these priorities. As was noted in last week’s President’s Comment, the Minister is working hard to try and convince BC that his government will protect public services even if the provincial treasury runs a deficit. However, the facts so far don’t support the Minister’s public statements. The government has been pushing through significant cuts to existing programs and shows no indication of making meaningful investments in the services that British Columbians value. When he rises in the Legislature on September 1st to present his budget, all eyes will be on the detail of his revised plans to fund existing programs. Hopefully, the mid-August poll results will motivate the government to act in a way that reflects the true priorities of BC voters.
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.