Big news in cabinet shuffle

Provincial cabinet shuffles don't rank as the most exciting news event. When it does become a news story, it's usually because someone gets dropped from Cabinet or downgraded to a second-string portfolio.

It's also rare for the Legislative Press Gallery to follow with any great interest some of the shuffling that takes place with ministerial assignments. Which crown corporations or authorities report to what minister is hardly the stuff that makes for good TV let alone the six o'clock news.

However, Monday' Cabinet shuffle may prove to be an exception, at least from a post-secondary education perspective. Although many observers had speculated that Murray Coell would be re-assigned to another portfolio, the news on Monday proved them wrong. More significantly, the Premier's Cabinet announcement included the news that the Industry Training Authority (ITA), which is responsible for the government's $110 million budget for trades training and apprenticeship programs, will now report to the Minister of Advanced Education. Prior to the Monday change, ITA had been the responsibility of the Minister of Economic Development.

The ITA move is a very positive sign from a government that has been sending a lot of negative signals to BC's public post-secondary education system. Back in March, for example, the government announced a 2.6% cut in operating grants to post-secondary institutions, a move that has caused chaos and hardship for thousands of students and every college and university in the province. By shifting the ITA to AVED, the government is finally conceding on a point that FPSE and others in the public post-secondary education system have been making since 2002: oversight for trades training and apprenticeship programs needs to be the responsibility of a single ministry, AVED.

Our logic in making this point has been very clear. Over 90% of trades training and apprenticeship programs are delivered by public post-secondary institutions. If you want that delivery system to work effectively, then ITA needs to report to AVED, not another ministry.

What provoked the Premier to make this change is hard to discern at this point. It's been widely recognized that the so-called "new model" for trades training that was the raison d'être for ITA in the first place has been a dismal failure. The number of apprentices completing their Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) has never exceeded the level achieved under the old system-the Industry Training Authority (ITAC)-despite considerably more funding for ITA than was previously provided to ITAC. That last point has drawn the scrutiny of BC's Auditor General who is expected to release a report on ITA's performance sometime in the coming months. Perhaps the early indications from that report were not favourable and the Premier decided to move now to pre-empt the criticisms that would certainly follow the release of the AG's report.

Regardless of the motives, putting ITA under the Minister of Advanced Education is the right move. With a single ministry now coordinating programs for post-secondary education as well as trades training and apprenticeship, hopefully we can begin to strengthen the capacity of public post-secondary institutions to provide the training and opportunities that BC needs.

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.