Budget 2012: No Vision, No Plan

A year ago BC Liberals elected Christy Clark to replace Gordon Campbell as their leader and as BC's Premier. Her campaign for leadership had a constant refrain; she was going to "do things differently". She also pledged to put "families first". Twelve months into her tenure as Premier and you would be hard pressed to identify just where the differences are between her brand of leadership and her predecessor, Gordon Campbell. Moreover, the most telling evidence of what a government intends to do-their annual budget-shows that the promise of change that brought Clark to the Premier's Office has quickly faded.

The 2012 BC Budget tabled by Finance Minister Kevin Falcon delivers more troubling news to BC households and disappointment to BC's post-secondary education system. The news for the average BC family is that costs will increase, public service-already stretched too thin-will be forced to stretch even more and the prospect of even more auctioning of public assets will increase. On the cost side, Medical Services Plan premiums will increase, marking the fourth time those premiums have increased since 2009. The rise in MSP over that period comes close to 24%. By April of next year MSP premiums will account for more revenue to the BC government than corporate taxes collected by the province. If this is "change" that Clark was talking about, it's hardly the kind of change average households expected or wanted from a new Premier.

In a particularly cynical move, the Finance Minister said that he was prepared to increase BC's corporate tax rates, but only if his budget was still not in balance by 2014. In his budget speech and his briefing to the media at the budget lockup in Victoria, Falcon made much of his so-called tough stand on corporate taxes. However, given all the "ifs" that he placed on raising corporate taxes, the likelihood that he would follow through with the increase is remote at best. Between now and 2014, it will be average taxpayers who shoulder the lion's share of this restraint budget, not BC's corporate sector, which once again got a pass from the BC Liberals.

For our post-secondary institutions, the Finance Minister issued yet another "challenge": reduce your spending by 1%. When you consider that the post-secondary education system has had to endure a 9% drop in real per-student operating grants that they receive from the province over the last decade, forcing those institutions to endure another round of funding decreases will certainly make a bad situation that much worse. And to suggest, as the Minister did in his briefing to the media at the budget lockup, that a 1% cut in spending would have limited impact on our institutions only reinforces the view that the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues just don't get it. At Northwest Community College, for example, where senior administrators say they have a $1.5 million deficit (less than 5% of their total operating budget), they have issued layoff notice to the entire University Transfer faculty and are proposing to drastically reduce course and program offerings. The Minister's 1% challenge will have a serious impact on institutions, one that will place even more barriers between our students and their prospects for completing their post-secondary education.

It's worth pointing out that the Service Plan for the Ministry of Advance Education forecasts a drop in student FTE enrolments between this year and next. That fact alone is a chilling reminder of just how out-of-step the current government's plan for post-secondary education is with the longer term needs of our province. Countless studies have stressed the importance of education and training as critical building blocks of a modern economy. Other studies, including those by several business organizations, point out that BC faces a serious skills shortage, one that will have a negative impact on economic growth in BC. Despite those studies and forecasts the 2012 Budget fails to invest in the knowledge and skill based building blocks BC so urgently needs. Our province, our institutions, but most of all, our students deserve better.

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.