BC's Throne Speech: 'Transformative', but for whom?

With the launch of a new legislative session, the BC government's Throne Speech has signaled that its new mandate may soon begin to look a lot like its first four years. Rather than look for ways to strengthen core public services like health care and education, the Campbell government is now talking about how to make greater accommodations for private providers to address everything from surgery wait lists to the "transferability of credits from private post-secondary institutes".

The government's proposals are purposely vague at this point and their language is loaded with code phrases that do more to baffle than inform. "Transformative" is certainly their new catch phrase. We are told over and over again how British Columbians must transform themselves through efforts that "embrace change", "rethink assumptions" and "move with the times".

What's missing, of course, is any acknowledgement of the critical underlying values that the public wants government to guide its "transformative" initiatives. Why look to private delivery options in health care, for example, when we already know that those private options are more expensive and more exclusionary than our existing public system? Certainly those who can afford private health care want to see fewer obstacles to its expansion, but the vast majority of British Columbians can't afford that option and want government to make public health care stronger, not more fractured by creeping privatization.

The same can be said for post-secondary education. Again, the vast majority of BC families want the public post-secondary system to work for them. They want it to be affordable, accessible and provide the best possible education and career options for students. What we are seeing instead is a system in which family income (or even more perversely, willingness to go further into debt) is becoming more of a determinant of access than anything else.

The Throne Speech also made only a brief reference to BC's looming skills shortage, even though the Premier's own Economic Forecast Council has noted that BC's skills deficit is undermining economic growth. In several submissions to government on this issue, FPSE has continued to stress that addressing the skills shortage will take new money and new commitments from the province that seriously incorporate the ideas and solutions that the labour movement has been advocating. Unfortunately, that kind of "transformation" is hard to find in this document.

Instead, we are told that their strategy for addressing the skills shortage is to "expedite" the flow and credentialing of foreign-trained workers. It's hard to fathom the credibility of that strategy given that this is the same provincial government that cut funding of the Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) program that was part of our public post-secondary institutions before the budget cutting that took place in 2001-2002.

The real test for this new mandate will come next week when the Minster of Finance, Carol Taylor, tables her 2006 budget. At that point, the lofty language of a Throne Speech will be "transformed" into specific funding commitments. Hopefully, the changes we need to strengthen public post-secondary education will be backed by the dollars needed to pay for them.


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.