2010 Legislative Session: Second Session, 39th Parliament
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
MINUTES AND HANSARD
SELECT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FINANCE AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Sandman Hotel, Castlegar, B.C.
Present: John Les, MLA (Chair); Doug Donaldson, MLA (Deputy Chair); Norm Letnick, MLA; Don McRae, MLA; Michelle Mungall, MLA; Bruce Ralston, MLA; Bill Routley, MLA; John Rustad, MLA; Jane Thornthwaite, MLA; John van Dongen, MLA
1. The Chair called the Committee to order at 2:29 p.m.
2. Opening statements by John Les, MLA, Chair.
3. The following witnesses appeared before the Committee and answered questions:
1) Selkirk College
2) City of Castlegar
Mayor Lawrence Chernoff
3) Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative
4) West Kootenay Early Years Initiatives
5) Selkirk College Students' Union
4. The Committee adjourned at 4:17 p.m. to the call of the Chair.
The following electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.
REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS
select standing committee on
Finance and Government Services
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Issue No. 26
* John Les (Chilliwack L)
* Doug Donaldson (Stikine NDP)
* Norm Letnick (Kelowna–Lake Country L)
* Don McRae (Comox Valley L)
* John Rustad (Nechako Lakes L)
* Jane Thornthwaite (North Vancouver–Seymour L)
* John van Dongen (Abbotsford South L)
* Michelle Mungall (Nelson-Creston NDP)
* Bruce Ralston (Surrey-Whalley NDP)
* Bill Routley (Cowichan Valley NDP)
* denotes member present
Byron Plant (Committee Researcher)
Barry Auliffe (Selkirk College)
Lawrence Chernoff (Mayor, City of Castlegar)
Andrew Earnshaw (Kootenay Boundary Community Services Co-operative)
Dorothy Kaytor (West Kootenay Early Years Initiatives)
David Lubbers (Selkirk College Students Union)
Marilyn Luscombe (President, Selkirk College)
Lynn Proulx (West Kootenay Early Years Initiatives)
Varenka Schwarz (Executive Director, Selkirk College Students Union)
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THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 2010
The committee met at 2:29 p.m.
[J. Les in the chair.]
J. Les (Chair): Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Castlegar, for those of you who aren't from here. We're ready to start the meeting this afternoon. I'm John Les, the MLA for Chilliwack and the Chair of this committee. I'd like to welcome everyone who's here in the audience. Thank you for taking the time to participate in our process.
Each year, in preparation for the next year's budget, the Minister of Finance releases a budget consultation paper by September 15. This presents a current fiscal forecast that also identifies the key issues that need to be addressed in the next budget.
The paper provides a focus for the consultations of this committee as well, and it includes information on how members of the public may provide their views on budget priorities. Copies of that paper are available on the information table at the back of the room.
The Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is the parliamentary committee that is responsible for conducting consultations on the forthcoming provincial budget. Our committee is required to report back to the Legislative Assembly no later than November 15 of this year.
We will be holding 14 public hearings in each region of the province. We've also scheduled three video conferencing sessions to hear from residents of rural communities living in the more remote areas of B.C. This week we've been in Lake Country, Penticton, Kamloops and Cranbrook. This afternoon we are in Castlegar. Tomorrow we will be in Victoria. Last week we were in Vancouver and Surrey.
In addition to public hearings, there are a variety of other ways that British Columbians can share their ideas with us. We accept written submissions by letter and e-mail and also video and audio files. Further information on how to participate is available on the committees website.
Committee members carefully consider all the public input that we receive, whether it's an oral presentation made here today, an on-line survey form, a submission in writing, an audio or video clip, or what have you. Our deadline to receive submissions is Friday, October 15.
At today's meeting each presenter may speak for ten minutes, with up to five additional minutes allotted for members' questions. Time permitting, we may also have an open-mike session near the end of the hearing, with five minutes allocated for each presentation.
Today's meeting is a public meeting which will be recorded and transcribed by Hansard Services. A copy of the transcript, along with all the minutes of the meeting, will be printed and made available on the committees website. In addition to the meeting transcript, a live audio webcast of this meeting is also produced and available on the committees website to enable interested listeners to hear the proceedings as they occur. An archived copy of the audio broadcast will also be retained on the committees website.
It's now time for committee members to introduce themselves, starting with Bill.
B. Routley: Bill Routley, MLA for the Cowichan Valley.
M. Mungall: Michelle Mungall, MLA, Nelson-Creston.
B. Ralston: Bruce Ralston, Surrey-Whalley.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Hello, everyone. Doug Donaldson, MLA, Stikine, up in the northwest, and Deputy Chair of the committee.
N. Letnick: Norm Letnick, MLA, Kelowna–Lake Country.
D. McRae: Don McRae, MLA, Comox Valley, and currently struggling with a Tootsie Roll.
J. Rustad: John Rustad, MLA for Nechako Lakes.
J. Thornthwaite: Jane Thornthwaite, North Vancouver–Seymour.
J. van Dongen: John van Dongen, Abbotsford South.
J. Les (Chair): Also joining us, in terms of staff, are Susan Sourial, to my immediate right. She's the Clerk to our committee. At the back of the room is Byron Plant, who is staffing the registration desk. The Hansard Services staff with us are Michael Baer and Jean Medland, who are responsible for all the technical equipment that you see in the room as well as recording and preparing the written transcript of this meeting.
With those formalities out of the way, I'd like to now call our first witness, who is Marilyn Luscombe from Selkirk College.
M. Luscombe: Thank you very much. I'd like to introduce Barry Auliffe. Barry is our director of communications and development at Selkirk College.
You have copies of our presentation. You'll probably see this format used a lot by college presidents throughout B.C. The template has been developed by our consortium, our B.C. college presidents group.
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Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in today's prebudget consultations. The government is definitely to be commended for giving British Columbians a voice in shaping the 2011-12 provincial budget.
We recognize and are sensitive to the fiscal challenges currently facing the province. As one of B.C.'s 11 community colleges, it is our mandate to provide students with advanced skills and education for employment within that context. B.C.'s 11 community colleges serve over 250,000 students annually in almost 70 communities throughout the province. Selkirk College serves the West Kootenay–Boundary region. In 2009-10 approximately 13,571 students registered on a full-time and part-time basis.
We are the front-line educators for people in communities in the West Kootenay–Boundary region and are the primary providers of skills training and education, including those traditionally under-represented groups such as aboriginal, disabled and immigrant students.
As more people turn to colleges for advanced skills and education for employment in the new knowledge-based economy, the college system faces both physical and financial capacity issues that if not addressed will limit our future ability to serve British Columbians. The demand for this type of education and the timing for delivery of service will place unprecedented pressure on the capacity of B.C.'s colleges.
As a representative of one of those colleges, I would like to take the opportunity to first provide an overview of those challenges and opportunities, introduce you a little to Selkirk College, describe the role our college plays in the economic growth of B.C. and how our college is vital in preparing B.C.'s workforce for the looming skills gap, describe how our college is responding to some of the budget challenges and how our college is helping B.C.'s economy and investing in B.C.'s future and discuss the commitment we require from government in order to successfully train and educate B.C. students.
Selkirk College serves the West Kootenay–Boundary region, with a population of approximately 75,000. Our annual budget is approximately $37 million. As a rural college providing access to post-secondary education, we maintain a comprehensive range of programs within the schools of developmental education, hospitality and tourism, industry and trades training, the Kootenay School of the Arts, digital media and music, business and aviation, university arts and sciences, health and human services and renewable resources as well as international education.
We provide that programming through campuses and learning centres in Kaslo, Nakusp, Nelson, Castlegar, Trail and Grand Forks, and also through various delivery modes, including a significant array of on-line and blended learning. And by the way, Selkirk is very proud that we have per capita the most on-line programs and courses of any institution in British Columbia.
We are also proud of our close and supportive relationships with our communities and our several unique and relevant entities such as our Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development Research, in which, by the way, our communities invest $1.25 million, matched by B.C.'s leading-edge endowment fund of $1.25 million; our Mir Centre for Peace, situated at our Castlegar campus; and our Selkirk Geospatial Research Centre, which led, by the way, to our one and only made-at-Selkirk degree, a bachelor of geographic information systems.
Our exceptional faculty and staff are dedicated to our students' success, and as a community college we offer our students education and training that is high-quality, affordable and close to home.
The economy is beginning to recover, but in some areas of the province such as ours the recovery is slower than others. This year our total enrolment is about the same as it was in 2009-10, but during the past two years we have had more students than ever before in our 44-year history.
Additionally, we have had wait-lists or had to turn students away in programs like nursing, electrical, fine woodworking, hairdressing, general mechanics and other programs. We've also had an increase in demand for certain programs such as in the trades areas over the past several years.
As more people turn to colleges for training or retraining for advanced skills for employment, our college faces both physical and financial capacity challenges that limit our ability to serve our communities. Many of our students are learning with outdated equipment and technology that make providing advanced skills and education for employment challenging in terms of maintaining quality. So in order to deliver more cost-efficiencies, we need to modernize our facilities and upgrade our systems.
In the past few years we have collaborated on innovative initiatives such as program collaborations with other colleges — the College of the Rockies and Okanagan College, for two — and upgrading infrastructure with one-time grants to reduce fuel use. These activities have resulted in greater efficiencies. We continue to seek such cost savings and learning innovations and have a number of agreements with other institutions to help us do just that.
Two major shifts are happening in Canada, as I'm sure you're aware. The first baby boomers turn 65 in 2011, and many millions across Canada and hundreds of thousands in B.C. will follow in rapid succession. Our economy is quickly moving towards a more knowledge-based economy, and there are simply not enough skilled individuals to replace the vast numbers poised to retire.
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Two short years ago government was identifying the skills gap at approximately 300,000 people by 2015. The Conference Board of Canada now predicts a shortage of 150,000 tradespeople in B.C. alone. We need to grow our workforce to combat the skills gap through a variety of strategies.
Firstly, increase the workforce significantly, with workers that have advanced skills and education, including increased participation by under-represented groups such as aboriginals and disabled workers. Secondly, improve the transition to the workforce for immigrants, including credentials transfer, advanced skills and education for employment.
In order to achieve sustained economic success, we must invest in the type of education and training that is required by the more knowledge-based economy. B.C.'s colleges can and do provide the types of advanced skills and education necessary for employment, but we need continued investment by government in order to do so.
As the primary providers of advanced skills and education, we will play a major role in responding to the significant future skills gap. Our college continually aligns its programs to respond to the advanced skills and education requirements of our community. Our advisory committees for every program help us with that, and our alignments and relationships with businesses and agencies enable new program development, such as our currently-in-progress plant operator program development.
However, as more people turn to colleges, we face increasing pressures in our capacity both financially and physically. Continued investment in B.C.'s colleges is absolutely necessary to ensure that we have the workforce in place to meet the challenges of the future.
In terms of budget challenges, the restraint on base funding over the years and reduction of the annual capital allowance by close to 85 percent in the past year has meant that B.C.'s colleges have had to undertake extraordinary measures to continue to meet the range of programs and services required. Living within our means is our responsibility, but these restraints and reductions have really tested those means and living within those means.
Changes in government administrative and accounting policies that limit the use of surplus funds also have the potential to restrict our ability to respond effectively to the changing requirements of students if not mitigated. At a time when we need to be as adaptable as possible, these policies are inhibiting our ability to respond efficiently. We require the necessary changes so that we can work more effectively with what we have available.
Our college is helping B.C.'s economy and investing in B.C.'s future. Ninety-six percent of B.C. college graduates stay and work in B.C., and B.C. colleges and their graduates contribute $7.7 billion of income to the provincial economy. Selkirk College contributes approximately $75 million to our local economy.
Our college plays a key role in providing advanced skills and education in our region, with specific strategies targeting traditionally under-represented groups. This training is critical to the future economic health of the region and of the province.
Students from our college are now employed in local agencies and industries. Over 70 percent of nurses in this region are Selkirk College's grads. Digital media graduates, such as the founders of the award-winning Juicy Studios, have established more than 60 small businesses in this area. Our communities have benefited because of these grads and new businesses and their contributions to our local economy and quality of life.
B.C. colleges play a vital role in providing advanced skills and education for B.C.'s knowledge-based economy. In order to continue to do so effectively, we ask government to fund us accordingly.
Firstly, in order for B.C.'s colleges to continue to provide the advanced skills and education for employment, B.C.'s colleges require a sustainable operating base. In 2011-12 there needs to be an increase to accommodate inflation and other contractual or statutory increases to operating budgets.
Secondly, government needs to address the administrative and accounting policies issues that could potentially negatively impact operations and our college's ability to provide the education, programs and services required to students.
Government needs to start to restore the annual capital allowance back to pre-2009 levels. Our aging infrastructures require care and attention to remain viable. Government also needs to make a new funding commitment to support increased access and success for aboriginal, immigrant and disabled students.
In conclusion, our college is a primary provider of advanced skills and education for employment in the West Kootenay–Boundary region. Investing in Selkirk College is vital to the future economic health of this region.
B.C. colleges are a great investment. They return $3.80 to the provincial economy for every dollar of taxpayer financial support. Our college provides a similar return.
Selkirk College is committed to working with our communities to further the economic health of B.C. by providing programs and services that result in advanced skills and education for employment.
I thank you for your time and would be pleased to answer any questions that you may have.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much, Marilyn. I have a question from Norm.
N. Letnick: Thank you very much for coming and presenting.
What's the future of the demographics in the area that you serve? With, as you say, the boomers retiring
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and, hopefully, the economy getting better, there's going to be a lot more pressure on young people to go into the workforce and not go to college. There will also be people who are going to college now who can't get a job, and so they go to college to upgrade their skills.
Looking at those two pieces, plus the high school enrolments that we have in your area, what does the future look like? Are you looking in the next ten years at having a lot more people trying to get into college, or do you think, based on your demographic studies, that it's stable or declining?
M. Luscombe: Well, I think it's always a balancing act. The economy, of course, swings back and forth. Certainly, the factors that you indicated are true. In times when we've seen growth, in part, over the last several years, it's because the economy has gone relatively bust. There haven't been the jobs, and therefore people have come to school.
However, we've got significant issues, not only in B.C. but across the country, with the participation rates of young people and the participation rates in post-secondary in general. We also know that employers into the future, at least 70 percent of them, will require at least a college education in order to achieve the skills and competencies they need to make their businesses and agencies viable.
We need to increase those participation rates in addition to maintaining the attraction of students who might choose to go into employment rather than to go to school. We also have to work with employers to make sure that we have opportunities for dually going to school and going to work, as a lot of our students have to do now because they can't afford to do otherwise.
We also have immigrant populations that are not being served appropriately in terms of credentialing and upgrading that are required to be part of the economy. We also have the largest proportion, demographically, of young people coming through our systems, or not coming through our systems, that we need to pay significant attention to.
When aboriginal students reach high school graduation, they come into our post-secondary education institution and are, by record, immensely successful. We have to make sure that they graduate from grade 9 or grade 8 or even lower and move through the high school system, work with the high school system and with the aboriginal leaders in our communities to make sure that aboriginal students become part of our socioeconomic life in a bigger way. That's part of our success.
So it's a mixture of things. It's also a mixture of delivery modes, to make sure that we're not staying stagnant as a college and as part of the post-secondary system — lecturing at the front of the room to the empty vessels is no longer a viable way to offer education — and to look for imaginative and creative ways that respond relevantly to learners.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much, Barry and Marilyn, for being here today. I just want to let my colleagues on the committee know that this region is losing a huge asset shortly. Marilyn is heading back east to New Brunswick. She has dedicated, I think, over ten years.
M. Luscombe: Yes, ten years to Selkirk. I'm a Newfoundlander, so I came from Newfoundland.
M. Mungall: The east is calling her back, and so we're losing her, which is a real shame.
We've been hearing a lot from colleges, like you said, from all over the province, and we'll be hearing from many more in the future. One of the things that I'm really interested about in your presentation is the fourth point in section 7 about the funding for aboriginal students.
You were just talking about that — how it's really important to ensure that aboriginal students not only have access to post-secondary but that the first step is to make sure that they're able to get through the K-to-12 system. I know that you're working on your aboriginal gathering place, and that groundbreaking ceremony is going to be coming up this spring, which is fantastic.
What are some of the programs that you're looking at as a possibility outside of the aboriginal gathering place? Just as an example, we heard from the College of the Rockies earlier this morning. They mentioned they have an ABE mobile program, where the adult basic education goes out to communities. Is there something along those lines, something additional, as well, that you're thinking of?
M. Luscombe: Well, I started in the college system 25 years ago in Newfoundland as an adult basic education instructor. I know from that experience, and I know from dealing with our developmental education, adult basic education and ESL instructors at Selkirk, that they're a group of very innovative people and are one of the links that we have out to communities, other than the ones where we have bricks and mortar, and also inclusive of the aboriginal community, which is smaller than some other areas of the province, of course, in the West Kootenay–Boundary region, but still significant.
We have had special initiatives with the help of our student services and our adult basic education instructors and other specialty instructors to reach out in specific ways to aboriginal students — in the trades areas, for instance. We had a transition program through some of our trades programs to bring aboriginal students into trades.
I think it's a matter of partnership. It's a matter of working closely with our school districts — which we try very much to do — and working with community leaders in the aboriginal communities who know best what the social problems are and the cultural issues that
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prevent aboriginal students from participating fully. We don't pretend we have all the answers. We have to form those partnerships to ensure that appropriate transition services are put in place. I think that throughout the province it's going to take a committed and holistic partnership to do that.
D. McRae: Thank you for your ten years of service to British Columbia post-secondary. Our loss will be New Brunswick's gain. One of the common themes that come up in presentations from colleges and universities is that accounting principles have changed and the struggles that that causes post-secondary institutions.
One of the things that I was thinking about is…. I think there is a real recognition of some of the struggles that you guys have. Is it possible to, basically, put together some of your experts within the actual college and university system — looking at the existing GAAP principles that we have to work within — and provide some alternatives, so that when groups like yourselves come to this committee, there are some options that, perhaps, we can take back to the Finance Minister and, at least, get their staff thinking in a way that maybe they haven't thought of before?
One thing that you guys do have is a great resource of brain, and if you could basically enlighten us — what we could lobby with the ministry — it would be a benefit to all.
M. Luscombe: Yeah, and I think there are people working on our behalf in the ministry who realize there are issues that need to be rectified here. So I think that will progress at the same time as special efforts, maybe, as you are referencing, might be put in place.
We do and we have had…. Our VP of finance and administration, for instance, with their accounting staff, put their heads together throughout the past year when several colleges — Selkirk was one, but didn't have the significance of problems that some institutions did — got together to articulate things in various ways so that the right perspective could be put on them, both with regard to the utilization of surpluses and with this aspect of non-cash deficits, which was the big issue for Selkirk at the time. And we're working through that. I think some of those people plus some of our board members are chartered accountants, and you know all of us like to have chartered accountants on our board.
As it happens, Selkirk College has a couple now, including our board chair, who can help out with this as well, because they're not only workers in our communities with that type of expertise but they have learned through being board members how to put that perspective and apply it to our post-secondary education system.
I think putting some of these think tanks together might be very helpful.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for your presentation. I just have had two family members recently enrol in Selkirk College here in Castlegar, so I'll wait till Christmas to get a report on how they're enjoying it.
M. Mungall: They're going to love it.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): "They're going to love it," Michelle says.
I had a question regarding point 1, under item 7, and that's the other contractual or statutory increases to operating budgets. Could you give me a description of those and how much of a shortfall there has been in the college's budget that's not there to cover those kind of obligations?
M. Luscombe: You know, we all have. Of course, the inflationary adjustment has needed to be less of late. The inflation rate hasn't been as great the last few years, but it has grown over time, and differently, depending on where you are in the post-secondary system. It's very complex. You'd almost have to go to zero-based budgeting in order to understand the inequity of it all throughout the province — rural versus urban and all of the costs of things that are different.
With contractual and statutory obligations, oftentimes those…. We're into collective bargaining this year, so the understanding will be that if there is — and there may not be — an increase in wages and whatever, those are usually attributed to the college. We're grateful for that.
We also have within our collective agreements regular increments to salaries, and those are not included. That's one large inflationary adjustment that has not been attended to within the ten years that I have been here, under two governments. It's irregardless of governments. Irregardless is not a word — but regardless of governments. I don't know if you knew that, but a lot of people don't.
It just needs to be paid attention to. I know that it's tiresome, because for years and years I went before committees like this and talked about inflation, inflation, inflation. I know that it hasn't been something that has received a lot of sympathy, but the facts are that we all have had, over the last ten years, in my tenure, in some years very significant inflationary increases when it comes to utilization of fuel, for instance, and things like that that have caused us to have to push and squeeze on programs and services for students.
I think the call is to work closely with government to truly recognize what those needs are. Selkirk College is the oldest college in British Columbia. We're very proud that in the early 1960s this community came together and held a public referendum and said they were going to form a college regardless of whether the provincial government funded us or not. Thank goodness the provincial government did.
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Being the oldest college means that in terms of our buildings, no matter how good and beautiful they are — and some of them are quite that…. We have trades buildings. For instance, our vocational centre is the Silver King campus in Nelson. It's actually older than Selkirk College itself. It came together with the college several years after we were formed. Well, those trades shops haven't changed significantly since 1963.
With the significant increase in students in the trades areas all across the province, particularly at Selkirk College, and therefore the increased pressures on those significant pieces of equipment, which cost a lot of money to replace and to maintain, we have to pay some attention to how students are going to be served well and develop the skills they require to serve the workforce with all of those factors in mind.
J. Les (Chair): Okay, we have three questions left. Each of them will have to be short.
J. Thornthwaite: Thank you for your presentation.
You just briefly mentioned international education. Do you have…? Obviously, you've got international students. What is your percentage?
M. Luscombe: Yes. We have about 150 international students a year. We've had an international education program since about 1984 at Selkirk. That's a relatively small number, but for a small college it's a significant number.
Moreover, when we started in international education, most of those students were in English as a second language. The face of that has changed significantly, and now at least half that number of students are in our regular programs. Of course, they pay three times the tuition fees. Over the years there has been a significant investment from our international education in the domestic education of our B.C. students as well.
J. Thornthwaite: What was the percentage?
J. Les (Chair): Sorry, I've got to leave it there. John is next.
J. Rustad: If you don't have the numbers offhand, if you can get them to us, to the committee, this would be great.
There's a question I have. You mention that the college system faces a physical capacity issue. B.C. has undergone the largest expansion of colleges and universities in decades over the past nine years, ten years.
I'm just wondering: how many additional seats has Selkirk College grown by over the last decade, as well as the funding and where you would like to see it go? At some point we can't just keep adding seats. At some point we have to say: this is the capacity we have for the time being. If you could e-mail that to the committee, that would be great.
M. Luscombe: Yes.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. That'd be good.
B. Routley: On your point 3, I'm concerned. This is the second college where I've heard about shortages in skills areas that are in desperate need. Certainly, these problems are going to be made more difficult with the baby boomer situation. Specifically, you were talking about nursing, electrical and other trades — you know, outdated trades shops.
I've kind of got two questions wrapped up in one. What would it take to solve that problem or update that problem so that you're not turning people away? I mean, is there a focus to not be turning people away from areas where there are skills shortages, like nursing? Do colleges and universities collaborate on such things?
Again, when you're hearing, in another community, the same kind of thing — that there are shortages in training spots for nursing — yet we know that we're going to have a crisis in those skills needs in the future…. Somehow we're not dealing with the problem. What are the blockages that keep us from getting at those problems?
My second part is on corporate money for colleges, or sponsorship. Has that gone up or improved in the last five or ten years?
M. Luscombe: On the first point, in terms of nursing. This is a problem that's not going to be solved by Selkirk alone, and it's not going to be solved by the Ministry of Advanced Education alone. It's going to take collaboration around health and education.
One of the issues that prevents us from training more nurses in this particular area, for instance, would be clinical placements. Unless we have the appropriate clinical placements…. We've gotten very inventive with that at Selkirk College, with street nursing and more clinical placements in public health rather than acute care, etc. We have to put heads together to be able to solve that problem.
I don't think it means training more nurses in Vancouver or the bigger centres, which have more clinical placements, because they're going to have their limitations as well. We have to reformulate. The health issue, of course, is a big black hole that a lot of us have not been able to solve.
In terms of corporate, we've been very pleased at Selkirk College that for a small college, particularly in the last five years, we have been able to get a great deal of support from our community, both through municipal government working with us and with corporate sponsors such as the industries in our area.
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For instance, with the regional innovation chair, we were the first college in British Columbia, the first post-secondary education institution, to acquire a Regional Innovation Chair in Rural Economic Development research.
We had to raise $1.25 million from a population of 75,000, and we did it within a year. That was with the full support and cooperation of our municipal governments and our regional districts, who kicked in about $405,000 of that. Then came Columbia Basin Trust and many other industries in our region that said: "We're doing this for Selkirk, and we're doing it for the health of our region."
We just completed last night a $200,000 endowment for a mere lecture series. We had David Suzuki speak here last night to an audience of 1,100 people. Within one year our communities came together — 130 individuals, families, groups and industries — to help us reach $305,000 rather than $200,000 for that endowment.
Selkirk College has a $6 million endowment for scholarships and bursaries for our students. And I've learned to love fundraising. I think there's a great demonstration of support in this community for post-secondary education, a realization that it's the best investment one can make.
J. Les (Chair): Well, thank you very much, Marilyn. Unfortunately, we're way over time, so we'll have to leave it there. Thank you for coming.
Our next presentation is on behalf of the city of Castlegar. His Worship the Mayor is here.
L. Chernoff: First of all, let me welcome you to the city of Castlegar. I think it's the finest municipality in British Columbia. I know we all say that, so that doesn't really matter.
I hope your visit is productive and of value to your deliberations. I'm here to speak on four points. First, I wish to speak to the province's need to be competitive in industrial development vis-à-vis the rest of Canada and the real world.
As you may be aware, Castlegar has two major industrial plants: Celgar and Interfor mills. These plants have had a checkered history in terms of economic sustainability. This sector of the economy is completely exposed to the forces at play in a global economy. Last year Celgar made public their difficulties with respect to the amount or the ratio of municipal taxes they are paying. Castlegar, like many resource-dependent communities in B.C., has long depended on the revenues of these two major industries to assist with the community's development.
Most resource communities are not naturally inclined toward economic diversity. We don't have the large population base that attracts a broad spectrum of commercial activity. For example, we have worked very, very hard to sustain our anchor industry as well as to build economic diversity to maintain our communities.
Castlegar immediately recognized the challenge at Celgar. We began negotiations to find a way to sustain both the industry and ultimately our community. In the face of a very competitive global market, we believe we have found a balance that allows Celgar to be competitive yet that is fair to the other rate taxpayers in our community.
As part of the work we did on this issue, we recognized that Castlegar was not alone in the changing circumstances, so we took the leadership role in working with the UBCM, the private sector and government ministries in considering how to best address the issue that really is important to resource-based communities in British Columbia — collectively, a proposed recommendation that, if adopted by the province, would reduce tax differences among B.C. municipalities and have tax rates at a competitive level at least within Canada.
This would enable B.C. to compete more vigorously for new industrial development and, consequently, new industrial jobs, wages and revenues to the provincial coffers.
Second, I'd like to encourage the province to continue to respond to economic troubles and provide increased funds for new municipal infrastructure. Like many cities Castlegar has a 50-year-old infrastructure that needs replacement.
In addition, Castlegar, like many municipalities, has faced increased health and water treatment requirements that are very costly. Currently Castlegar is looking to fund the future construction of a water treatment plant, at the cost of $26 million in today's dollars.
Ideally, we'd like more appropriate distribution of funding under the Canada-B.C. infrastructure funding program. I say "more appropriate" because Castlegar actually didn't receive any funding from Canada-B.C. infrastructure, even though we had shelf-ready, engineered servicing application value in excess of $3 million. We understand that the West Kootenay didn't receive any Canada-B.C. infrastructure funding, while other communities received significant funds for bleachers and other systems. We are asking for infrastructure money to open up a significant development parcel to create new jobs and wealth in our community.
Third, I would encourage the Finance Committee to invest their further support to the softer side of community infrastructure. We believe there is a direct relationship between a community's attractiveness to having facilities that support healthy exercise, such as arenas, swimming pools, gyms, seniors centres, and having the ability to attract new investment.
Here in Castlegar we are facing the imminent closure of our old arena, built in 1965. We'd love to partner with the senior governments in funding improvements to our
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rec complex, including a new ice sheet, improvements to our combined seniors centre, exercise training and gym, and our aquatic centre. Yet it has to be identified programs that we can partner with.
My preceding comments lead to my fourth and final point. Resource communities have to work hard if they are to achieve economic diversity. We have to work hard to attract and keep economic activity within our boundaries. Sometimes that means revisiting the rate structures to accommodate the changing world of economic conditions, as we did with Celgar and as we've proposed to the province around all resource-based communities.
It definitely means that we have to be constantly active in ensuring that our infrastructure is up to the task, not only addressing our existing business and community needs but so we can accommodate and even attract more economic activity to our community.
Castlegar has moved forward on these challenges, and our economic future is the better for it. But there is bad news as well, most recently in the announcement that the provincial government services office has been closed in Castlegar. We believe that Castlegar is the centre of the West Kootenays, and it makes eminent sense for provincial regional offices and regional services to be centred here to serve all the West Kootenay region.
As the second-largest city in the West Kootenay region, we have the only regional airport, and we are located on the hubs of highways 3, 22 and 3A.
We encourage the Finance Standing Committee to recommend the provincial government seek to maximize the effectiveness of its delivery of provincial services to the West Kootenay by locating regional service centres in Castlegar rather than moving provincial services out of our community.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much. I've got several questions. I should point out first, though, before I take questions, that I have two members who are going to be leaving very shortly. It's not because of anything you said.
M. Mungall: Lawrence, thanks a lot for being here today and talking about infrastructure. Coming from local government, I know all about the lack of infrastructure funding and how hard it is for small municipalities like ours to meet the cost of infrastructure and capital improvements.
Something came up this morning at our meeting in Cranbrook around this issue, and the mayor of Cranbrook said something. He actually rejected the idea, but I'd like to explore this idea a little bit. I'm going to put it out to you for your thoughts: a rural infrastructure trust fund — the idea of acknowledging that rural communities that are small have different capacities financially than large urban areas in meeting the infrastructure needs of their communities. Maybe there's a place to be putting a kind of trust aside for rural communities to access. Just an idea, and I'd like your feedback on it.
L. Chernoff: It's a good thought, and it's really trying to put things together that make it easier, and that's what we're trying to do. If you have good infrastructure, then the economic development comes with it. If you put the pipe in, at the end of the pipe there's a building. In that building there are jobs, there are taxes, and there's everything that comes with it.
That's why we feel infrastructure plays such a huge role in small communities in B.C. Without those, you can't move in a direction. If you don't have the infrastructure, you can't…. And everybody is after the same pot. You try and say: "Okay, what's the best way to do this?" We feel that if you have the infrastructure, you can bring people to the community, because it's the lifestyle that will bring them.
N. Letnick: Thank you, Your Worship, for welcoming us. My brother, actually, was a dentist in Castlegar many moons ago.
Where do we get the money from? You were saying that we need more money for infrastructure. The government has put billions of dollars into infrastructure in the province over the last few years, some of it in partnership with local government and with the federal.
Would you propose that we accelerate that? If you would like to see more, are you saying we need to tax more to pay for it? Or do you have another solution as to where we get the money from?
L. Chernoff: It's not a point of more. I think it's how it's distributed. I think that's the key feature here — how that money is distributed. It's the same thing if we look at a $3 million project. We can provide that third as a community. We feel comfortable with that. If we had a $3 million project, we'd have a million dollars that we have in reserves so that we can do that. But when you don't have that opportunity, you're kind of left out here on the side because there is no two-thirds that would help you out to do that.
Remember, like I said, everything's still tied to that economic development. If I want to do economic development, and I really base it on, in a community this size…. We'll talk about big boxes here. If we had big boxes, we could probably draw more people to the community — right? Now what happens here in the Kootenays is that we lose $4 million to $5 million to the Okanagan every year.
I think it's really based on convenience. When we look at it, is it convenient? Yeah. You go to a supplier, and he says, "Well, I can only supply you 50 bricks," and you need 200. You can wait three weeks, and people don't want to do that. So what people tend to do is to go to the
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larger centres where they can get the supply and then bring it back.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation. I echo Michelle's words. I had ten years in municipal councils, so I sympathize with some of the challenges you're faced with.
Two quick questions. Firstly, you talked about the more appropriate distribution of infrastructure dollars, and none of those dollars came Castlegar's way in this latest round. Were you given any reasons why that occurred, by the government?
Secondly, you referred earlier in the presentation to recommendations. I think it was around the municipal tax issue, but I'm not sure. If you did make some recommendations, could you make them available to the committee so that we could have a look at them as well?
L. Chernoff: Okay. On your first question, could you give that to me again?
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Were you given reasons why?
L. Chernoff: No, we weren't given any reason. No, not at all. The hard part of it was that it was the next step in our community that we could get to if we had that infrastructure money. We could go to the next step, and we were unable to do that because the money wasn't available.
J. Les (Chair): All right. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon.
Our next presenter is Andrew Earnshaw from the Kootenay Boundary Regional Resources Co-operative.
A. Earnshaw: Thank you. Almost had Andrew Jarrett, who — some of you met him before — sends his apologies. He is the coordinator of the cooperative. I am actually the executive director of Castlegar Community Services, which makes me one of the 13 owners of the cooperative. Most of the community service agencies in this region are members of this cooperative.
Typically, when I do this kind of thing I like to make a few notes and ad-lib, but this presentation has been very cooperatively put together. So if you will bear with me, I'm just going to read to you.
The co-op was formed in 2003. Its mission is to work to strengthen its members and address issues of social well-being in this region. The members of the co-op are 13 community social sector agencies whose staff have decades of experience delivering rural social services to communities throughout this region. For more information, please see our website.
With this submission, we'd like to outline our key recommendations around government spending.
A world without non-profit social services. Non-profit community social service agencies provide a vast network of services that support people of all ages to live healthier, happier lives. Conditions such as poverty, poor housing, family violence, lack of education, social isolation and mental illness place individuals and families at such risk that they may never reach their potential. Social sector agencies provide protection from these conditions through the provision of support and services to our community's most vulnerable.
Escalating health care spending is undermining community health. In B.C. health care spending has risen almost 50 percent in the last eight years and accounts for more than 40 percent of all provincial government expenditures. In Canada $128 billion a year is spent on health care, and it consumes 12 percent of our GDP.
With this rising tide of uncontrolled health spending, fewer resources are available to support community-based prevention programs. In contrast to these statistics, at least half of the factors that ultimately determine health have nothing to do with the health care system.
These factors, known as the social determinants of health, are things like early childhood development, education, social status, community connection, income and work history. Another 25 percent are things like biology, genetics and physical environment. The actual health care system accounts for just 25 percent of what we would define as our good health.
Social sector agencies protect all citizens against conditions that threaten their well-being. Programs offering parental support, quality child care, mental health counselling, housing advocacy, employment training and social connection all serve to strengthen individuals and the overall fabric of the community.
For example, a couple on the edge gets counselling and support, and domestic violence is averted. A family falling apart joins a peer support group, and a child avoids having to be taken into government care. A hungry mom and her toddler get food and a welcome place to go, and a child's foundational brain development is assured.
Community social services are a sound investment of public funds. Social sector interventions work and are cost-effective. The money-saving aspects of an early intervention and prevention are beyond dispute. They reduce the costs to the health care system, decrease crime rates and the cost to the judicial system. They help ensure greater success with education, most importantly, leading to a vibrant, high-value economy.
Communities and agencies such as those in our co-op, as members of thriving networks of community-builders, play a key role in supporting healthy lives. Inadequate support of the community social sector places all communities at risk.
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Therefore, our recommendations. In the context of recent Ministry of Children and Families cuts to contracted services to vulnerable children and families and the continuing economic hardship facing rural families, we strongly urge government to maintain, not reduce, the current level of funding allocated to social service ministries; within each contract, to fund the real cost of administering the programs and maintaining an office, which we estimate to be at 18 to 20 percent; to set contract values at a level that allows community agencies to respect the work done by counsellors and workers and recruit and retain high-quality employees; to engage in multi-year contracts with the commitment to annual inflation indexing; before contract renewal, to review with individual agencies the real cost of delivering the services and negotiate funding adjustments accordingly; to develop consistent policies between ministries with respect to contract language, funding and renewal procedures.
In conclusion, investing in the community social services sector is a sound business decision. Across the province there's strong support for government to engage in the non-profit sector. A strong partnership will improve the level of service provided by government and will save money. Our budgets are wise investments of taxpayers' dollars. We urge you to consider strengthening the investment in community social services.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Andrew. Any questions from anyone?
J. van Dongen: Thanks very much for your presentation. I commend you, as a group of social services agencies, for working together. Do you mainly trade ideas and information, or do you do some common purchasing or common bidding on contracts? What brings you together?
A. Earnshaw: The latter. The cooperative has a budget of…. I don't want to misspeak here. It's over half a million dollars of contracts that we've secured. Often it's the vehicle we use when the province wishes for a regional contract delivery agent rather than individual communities.
We do a number of…. Training is probably the thing we spend the most time doing on a collaborative basis. Living rurally, it's exceptionally costly for us to provide quality training, but we can bring our teams together.
J. van Dongen: I think your point near the end of the second page, where you talk about contract language and renewal procedures, etc. is a very good one. Ministries like the Ministry of Children and Families — a lot of their dollars go out in contract arrangements with non-profits, with for-profit agencies.
I'd be very interested, and I think the committee would be very interested, in more specific advice as to how to design contracts, RFPs, etc., in a way that works better. I do think that sometimes social workers graduate into contract management, and there are two different skill sets there.
I'm interested in your comments and, as I said, the specific ideas and thoughts that you might have. You could write them up and send them to the committee. You don't have to comment on them today.
A. Earnshaw: As a commerce graduate, I will politely agree with you. I'm going to go back to Andrew Jarrett about that question, because he's done quite a bit of work on this topic in terms of how to do contract standardization and is consulted by the ministries on this issue as well.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation, especially some of the points under the escalating health care spending. They're very, very good points.
I was wondering about the 13 agencies that make up your co-op. What has been the overall figure for the budget cuts that you've experienced recently, and what has that been in relation to the overall budget? What have the impacts of that been?
A. Earnshaw: The specific cut that's referred to on the second page of MCFD funding is still a bit of a work-in-progress, actually, but it's around 3 percent. The effect has been at least a 3 percent reduction in services. It means one less peer support group. It means that of a hundred families we see, three of them either don't get service or all of them get poorer services.
In the case of my agency, it's meant a reduction in the hours of family support counsellors, so there is less availability to have staff out assisting families to become parents again, if their children have been apprehended by the ministry, etc.
B. Routley: I certainly agree with many of the points that you've made, but I would add — and I just wondered if you agreed…. You talk about the social value of the work done by mental health counsellors, family support workers, that kind of thing. You are referring it mainly to health care. What about the added cost in policing — to the court system, to corrections, that kind of thing? Is there a reason that that's not included in here? The focus seems to be on health care.
I mean, one of the things that I think people ought to do…. So I guess a question back to you. Do you have any ideas about connecting social services to reduce costs in a whole range of other ministries and other areas? Has there been any effort made in trying to connect the dots between what occurs in other countries, where they may spend more money in a given social area — for example, mental health, addictions, certainly help for family, that
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kind of thing? Have you looked at any of the data that might be in other places on the planet — like Sweden, for example?
A. Earnshaw: Yeah. I had the honour of going on a Rotary group study exchange ten years ago to Denmark and spent a lot of time visiting the social service providers there.
For those who want to explore that more, the best thing to do is type in "social determinants of health" in your Google site. Actually, first go to Wikipedia. There is some astoundingly coherent information about social determinants of health there. If you look at what's happening particularly in northern European but all western European countries, they have an incredible focus on social determinants of health all through their health care system.
With respect, that is language that's explored in the Ministry of Health in British Columbia, but it's a very small side issue. I am just recently here with Interior Health. The population health team has been sort of blended down and brought back into line, now being managed by an acute care manager. So even here it has been a struggle for us in this province to really get hold of those ideas of social determinants of health.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you, Andrew. We're pleased you came today.
Our next presentation is on behalf of the West Kootenay Early Years office — Dorothy Kaytor and Lynn Proulx. Whenever you're ready.
D. Kaytor: My name is Dorothy Kaytor, and this is Lynn Proulx, and we want to thank you very much for giving us this opportunity.
It's appropriate, probably, and timely, given the recent media information about children's vulnerability in British Columbia up 30 percent — that would be children not ready for school.
So we're here to talk about children, talk about some success stories and to propose that all of the services or the majority of services that the provincial government has in place for children are part of this puzzle. There's a graphic in your handout. The reason we've put it together as a puzzle is that each piece alone is ineffective. They really do need to come together.
To answer one of the questions that was posed a while ago about how we go about funding it, certainly a comprehensive approach is a good start, where ministries aren't duplicating services and aren't stepping on each other's toes, where in fact they're talking together about how to best spend money that is limited.
Most of this you're certainly…. I know you'll read it on your own. We're going to give you the highlights.
There's the comprehensive part. We know that child care — anything you've heard about early learning and care — has been supported recently again in the media by the Vancouver Board of Trade, Justice Institute, Canadian and B.C. Chambers of Commerce, early learning partnership and potentially many, many researchers across the country. We know that child care, early learning in care, whatever you want to call it, is good for children, grandchildren, parents, business and the overall economy.
I'm going to speak directly about two programs that the government has in place right now, one being Success By 6. It's a unique partnership amongst credit unions, United Ways and the government. We understand at this point in time that they're coming together to look at a three-year plan as partners so that there is a responsibility both by the private sector and by the government to make sure that good things happen for children and families through the Success By 6 programs.
In the West Kootenay we use the fundings for Stars for Success. So if parents want to enrol their children into programs — sports programs, music programs, cultural programs, toy lending libraries — and they're finding it difficult to pay, there's some subsidy there that comes through our Success By 6 dollars. And there are a number of other activities that are listed there for you.
A recommendation to that end is that the government continue to support that endeavour, that there are other partners who are interested in coming to the table, sharing in the costs and responsibility of that program.
Children First is a program of the Ministry of Children and Family Development through regional allocations to support communities to identify and develop integrated and comprehensive models — again, in support of children and families in communities.
In the West Kootenay we use those dollars to support eight community tables. Speaking of the determinants of health, at each table we have representatives from public health, education, business, mental health, school division, the local community services group — any of the groups in that local area that are concerned about children — as well as individuals and parents. They come together on a regular basis, looking at the community. What are the services that are available for children and families? Where are the gaps? And what can we as a group, collectively, putting our heads and our dollars together, do towards filling those gaps?
So that's how the Children First dollars are used. Our recommendation there is that that continue to be available to communities, both in the West Kootenay and across the province.
I just want to make a note about combining programs. Here in the West Kootenay again we put the Children First and the Success By 6 dollars together. So there is one early years office, both pots of money are coming in, and it enables maximum benefit, deters duplication of service and also leverages additional dollars for us for our programs.
I'll turn it over to Lynn.
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L. Proulx: Thanks for having us here again today. I'm going to be speaking on the child care portion of it. We all know, of course, that early learning is a big thing right now. We've known that for years. I've been a director in Trail for 27 years with a non-profit society, and it's been great. There have been great programs, like Ready, Set, Learn and StrongStart, but it's only addressing people in the daytime. It's not addressing parents that go out and work, that are mothers.
There are about 144 children between the ages of zero and five whose mothers are in the paid workforce. Here in the West Kootenay we have 3,900 children between zero and five. We have 891 spots for child care, so that means about 2,300 children are…. We don't know where they're going for care. But I know personally in my centre that I have 72 people waiting to get in, and that's about a 2½- to three-year wait-list. So I feel like we're missing those kids that are going to fall through the cracks when they enter kindergarten.
We have about a 30 percent high rate of vulnerability when they enter kindergarten, which is going to be full-day soon. It hasn't started here. We have it in our private schools but not in our regular schools yet.
What we're hoping to recommend to all of you is that the Ministries of Children and Family Development and Education receive funds to support all early learning initiatives — including group infant-toddler care, group child care and school-age care as well as the StrongStart programs, the Ready, Set, Learn programs and the full-day kindergarten — and that the Ministry of Children and Family Development receives sufficient funding — I hope they will — to create additional and affordable child care spaces.
To increase the funding to ensure that trained early childhood professionals can be given a living wage, which we don't receive right now — or benefits or pensions.
To effectively tie the funding to a closer partnership between Ministry of Children and Families and Education.
I just opened up a new after-school care and kindercare program in Warfield, and I partnered with the school district and the PAC and the village. It was an extremely successful venture. We all came together. The school really believed in what we were doing, and they needed it in their school, and we all came together. It was a beautiful partnership. It was so easy. It was incredible. And the school board was really on board with all of us.
To consider budgetary decisions in relation to the document Emerging Plan for an Integrated System of Early Care and Learning in B.C.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you.
D. McRae: Thank you very much. I really appreciate what you're doing, as a father with a seven-year-old and a ten-month-old.
D. Kaytor: Oh, right. Congratulations to you too.
D. McRae: Thank you. My wife is missing me a lot more.
D. Kaytor: Yeah, I bet she is.
D. McRae: There are some diapers waiting for me.
One of the things that I've heard a lot, and I don't disagree with the statement, is that 30 percent of B.C. children entering kindergarten are developmentally vulnerable. Is this a number that, in your opinion, has gone up in recent years? Or is it something that we just weren't really tracking before and that now we're more aware of?
It seems rather…. Well, it's much too high. I never heard about it five, ten, 15 years ago as an issue.
D. Kaytor: It's the tracking. The early childhood development instrument is being used in almost every province, if not every province in the country, and that's a recent piece of research. I would say probably when I was in Manitoba, we were looking at ten years ago.
Here in B.C. what's wonderful is HELP — how the human early learning partnership at UBC takes all of the research and now, for the first time, is actually analyzing it and making it public. They've generalized it across the province, but then again, if you're watching the media or looking on their website, you'll notice that some areas of the province are more vulnerable than others.
There are criteria for neighbourhoods where children are most successful going to school. Criteria include healthy, safe neighbourhoods. You want to have a safe neighbourhood so that children can be outside and playing. You want to have easy access to health care. You want to have access to parent-child programs, so programs you can go to with your child, programs you know your child will be cared for well — safe, developmentally appropriate practice — if you're working or going to school.
If those kinds of factors are in a neighbourhood, children are more ready when they get to school. So the EDI reports, the EDI statistics will be much more favourable.
N. Letnick: Thank you for your presentation. Lynn, you mentioned school-age care. Is that where you open the schools up earlier, before the bell rings, and keep them open afterwards so that the parents just drop them off at 7:30, for example, and come back after work at five or six?
L. Proulx: Right. Before-kindercare or before-school care it's called, and then after-school care. And we do after-kindergarten care, which is 11 o'clock. They get out at 11. So there are three different times. There's before school, after kindergarten and after school.
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N. Letnick: Are you providing that now, where people can drop off their kids at 7:30 and come back at six?
L. Proulx: Yes, but it's just limited space.
N. Letnick: Okay. So you're looking for more funding so that we can expand the program.
L. Proulx: Yes, but along with the funding would have to come the training. We're really short of early childhood educators. It's hard to entice people to come into the field and go to Selkirk College and get their diploma, because of the living wage.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. When you said the wait-list times for child care spaces in this area, not only do I know that from personal experience with my assistant in my office, but I'm just thinking of myself right now. I don't have children like Don does. I might have to get on a wait-list now, just to be certain.
L. Proulx: It is true. We have people that come in with little pregnancy tests, saying: "I'm pregnant. I need to be on the list." They're so desperate. It's an awful, awful situation.
M. Mungall: I think you've really highlighted the situation. I don't think this is dissimilar around the province. But it's certainly the case in rural B.C., where space is even less, yet both parents have to work. That's the reality.
I think your recommendations absolutely highlight the issues that you put forward and provide some solutions. I'm kind of coming at it from a little bit of a different angle though. I'm wondering if you also see that early childhood education and child care is part and parcel of what could be a B.C. poverty reduction plan.
D. Kaytor: Yeah, absolutely. The opportunities are here. That's what's so exciting. We've got a school — right? We've got the building. It's publicly funded. It's owned by the community. We've got parents who need care. We've got full-day kindergarten that ends at 2:20 in the afternoon. Parents are still at work.
So if you're looking at an opportunity for children and parents…. It's happening in Toronto with First Duty, it's called, and they're doing it in more and more schools. It's an early learning team. The school is open early in the morning till later in the day. The team consists of early childhood educators, who are trained.
The children come. They're cared for. Breakfast is available for those children who want to have breakfast. They carry on with their day in a play-based activity. Then it's time for kindergarten. The kindergarten teacher enters the picture. The children have kindergarten. At lunchtime children are cared for. Children have kindergarten. Kindergarten is over at 2:20. Children stay there.
Wow, what a notion — right? They get their snacks; they get their rests. If some children are having a hard time — young five-year-olds as opposed to older five-year-olds, or it's just a bad day — you've got the care piece.
It's developmentally appropriate, and it's happening in a community building with a team of professionals. For kids, it's a seamless day instead of piecemealing it, which so many parents are having to do because there isn't enough child care anyway. And that piecemealing is going to continue even with full-time kindergarten.
L. Proulx: Also, it alleviates the stress for parents. We find that. If they're in the school, they know the child is safe. They're just going from the kindergarten right over to the after-school care program or a care program. I feel personally that parents just work better. They know that their child is safe and being cared for by professionals, and they work better. They just go to work better. They have a better attitude at work.
M. Mungall: I'm going to pick up on the avenue that you've kind of gone down here, with co-location, if I may, if we have time. It's an issue that's been coming up in my constituency quite a bit, where daycares historically were operating rent-free in school district buildings. There was a partnership between education and child care.
Recently, because of funding downloads and unfunded costs to school districts, they have had to now charge rent to the daycares, and the daycares are faced with either closing down entirely or closing spaces, further exacerbating the wait-list problem.
So here we are with this situation. What I'm hearing from you is that if there is going to be co-location, if that's a road we're going to go down, we have to look at the costs associated with it to ensure that it is sustainable.
L. Proulx: We have that in Salmo, for example. Their rent was increased by so much, she doesn't know if she'll be able to keep her doors open.
D. Kaytor: Yeah, because there's nowhere to get the money from — right?
L. Proulx: It went from zero to $1,200 a month in Salmo.
D. Kaytor: And the fees were already $45, so anyone who says: "Well, parents can pay more…." They're pretty well tapped out too.
Some of the centres are actually finding that they're becoming elitist. You have to pay between $35 and $45
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a day for your child to be at the centre, and there's not a lot of parents who can afford to do that.
It is a big issue. But I guess the comprehensive approach is what we really want to promote. At the ministry level there is talk, and then that can go down to the community level. We're not asking for more bricks and mortar. We're not asking to build. We're saying: "The school is already there. The lights are on. Heat is on anyway. Why not extend the day and ensure that there is a partnership between two sets of professionals to support children and families?"
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks for the presentation — concise and well-presented in the facts. The puzzle is a good graphic as well. I'm sure there is another layer on the outside of that around parents and the different agencies dealing with parents that would have an impact as well.
My question is on Success By 6. It's been a very successful program in my communities as well. I recall there were some very drastic cuts to that program, and then through community work and organizations such as yourselves and others, some of the funding was restored.
Your recommendation is to support the necessary allocation of funding in the provincial budget. Can you give us — just expand on that — an idea of what that necessary allocation would be, if you have that number, versus what it is now?
D. Kaytor: Oh gee, I don't have the number provincially. I know that for us, capacity funding we received was $44,000; it was decreased to $33,000. That has put some programs in jeopardy.
I'm not sure what the…. I think it's a third, a third, a third. They have a provincial budget. I think the United Way provides a third, the credit union a third and then the provincial government a third. Right now they're negotiating what that third might look like. But I'm sorry, I don't have the…. I can find out for you, though.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Yeah. If you'd like to provide that to the committee, you can check in at the back for the contact.
D. Kaytor: Yes. I can do that tomorrow.
J. Les (Chair): Thank you very much for coming this afternoon. We really appreciate the work you do.
I think our final presentation this afternoon is from the Selkirk College Students Union — Varenka Schwarz and David Lubbers.
D. Lubbers: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to thank you guys for being here. It's great to see the government coming around to find out what people want to see with their tax dollars.
I'd like to start out by apologizing. The student who wanted to give this presentation today unfortunately had some academic commitments that she was not able to get out of. I was asked to give the presentation on her behalf.
I would like to acknowledge the Sinixt people, whose traditional territory we are presenting on today.
My name is David Lubbers. I'm the organizer of the Selkirk College Students Union, Local 4 of the Canadian Federation of Students. Until two years ago I was an economics student at UBC Okanagan. Since then I've worked with students here at Selkirk College.
Again, I want to thank you for hearing our presentation today and extend our appreciation for the opportunity to participate in this process.
Our purpose is to advocate for our members, to provide services that assist in making students' lives better and to offer extracurricular experiences that enrich the student experience. Additionally, the Selkirk College Students Union is mandated by its members to advocate for a system of post-secondary education which is accessible to all, is of high quality and is well organized.
It is on this point I would like to speak to you today. Our students union represents over 2,000 students at Selkirk College. The students we represent are from a large and diverse area, represented by three different MLAs, from Grand Forks to Kaslo. While our membership may consist of people who come from different walks of life — rural to urban, trades to academic, professional to adult basic education — their concern for our province's post-secondary education system is one of the things that unites them.
In recent years, as students' share of the cost of post-secondary education in B.C. has increased and public funding for student financial assistance has been reduced, our members have prioritized seeking government measures to reduce student debt.
Our presentation today focuses on six key priorities to our members. These priorities are to see the B.C. government commit, No. 1, to reduce tuition fees to 2001 levels. As British Columbians, our first priority should be for all B.C. colleges and universities to reduce tuition fees. A great place to start that would be in reducing tuition fees back to 2001 levels. This would have an enormous and immediate positive impact for all students and is the most important recommendation we have. Higher user fees are the single largest barrier to post-secondary education, particularly for low- and middle-income earners.
B.C.'s post-secondary system has undergone a radical transformation over the past decade. Since 2001 tuition fees, on average, have doubled across this province. During a period of corporate and high-income tax cuts,
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this is an inappropriate increase that is much higher than the tuition fee freeze that was seen from 1996 to 2001 or than inflationary pressures can explain.
The decline in government funding to universities and colleges continues to pressure boards of governors to increase tuition fees, even though they recognize that these increases are in no way in the best interests of their students.
Since 2001 B.C. went from having tuition fees 30 percent below the national average to surpassing that average by 7 percent. In the past eight years we have set records among provinces for having some of the highest increases in tuition fees. We do not believe that this is the kind of system that British Columbians want to see.
There is more than enough evidence that financial barriers are the most significant obstacle to many citizens trying to achieve entry into colleges and universities, and public opinion supports this. For this reason, we recommend that tuition fees in B.C. be reduced to 2001 levels.
No. 2: the restoration of per-student funding to 2001 levels, accounting for inflation and indexing for future funding levels and inflation. Throughout our system, per-student funding has declined by 15 percent in the last eight years. Every year that this underfunding is not corrected, the situation gets worse and worse.
Even though the government says its goal is to create a culture of excellence in our post-secondary education system, without adequate funding it's just paying lip service to a dream. We are happy that the B.C. government has started to listen to students and educators and is now making up for their earlier funding cuts, but we don't believe that this has been done fast enough, and it is not enough.
Between 2001 and 2006 the budget of the Ministry of Advanced Education increased by only 9.6 percent, which is less than inflation during the same time of 12.9 percent. Sadly, this increase has done nothing to correct the decline of B.C.'s per-student funding, which has fallen every year since 2001. Total spending by the Ministry of Advanced Education actually declined in 2008 by about $96 million.
It is clear that this funding policy is out of step and out of line with the stated goals of creating a culture of excellence, or it fails to recognize what inflation is. This is an issue that needs to be amended right away.
No. 3: the elimination of interest charges on B.C. student loans. The average student debt after graduation from a four-year program is over $27,000. B.C. now has the highest student debt in Canada outside the Maritimes. The $27,000 figure represents only the public student loan debt. According to Stats Canada, that number is in excess of $32,000 when private debt is added to that equation.
We'd like to remind the members that following graduation, student loan borrowers pay interest on their public student loans substantially higher than the government's cost of borrowing. In fact, B.C. is charging more interest on student loans than almost any province in Canada.
All this adds up to an education system that rewards the wealthy few and punishes British Columbians who have to get by with less. Students with higher debt levels upon graduation pay more for their education through these higher interest rates than those who borrow less or nothing at all to get an education. A system in which low- and middle-class students are expected to pay more for the same education as those who can afford to pay up front is, at its core, fundamentally wrong.
The impact on the provincial treasury if interest on student loans was scrapped all together would be insignificant, but the benefits to graduates would be enormous. We recommend that the government eliminate interest charges on student loans to ensure that those who can least afford an education have the ability to pay for it.
No. 4, the reinstatement of the B.C. needs-based grant system. While in B.C. some of the highest interest rates on student loans exist, B.C. is also one of the worst provinces in terms of providing non-refundable student financial aid — 60 percent below the national average — and 12 percent of student aid in B.C. is not in loan form. As a province, we lag behind Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario, who all designate over 30 percent in non-repayable financial aid.
StatsCan, again, indicates that student debt will increasingly have a negative impact on the ability of graduates to participate in the economy, and it will negatively impact their quality of life. We recommend that you reinstate that grant program, as it has been very beneficial for students who were able to take advantage of it.
Next, No. 5, we want to look at trades training and improving that. Skilled tradespeople represent an important portion of B.C.'s population. These men and women tend to have higher incomes and, as a result, are a more positive impact on our economy.
Sadly, at many colleges in this province apprentices are forced to practise their skills on out-of-date equipment with antiquated tools. This does both the students and future employers a disservice, as people leave their program to find that their knowledge does not prepare them for what they will actually find in the field.
This is a result of years of underfunding in our trades programs. If we have a commitment to create a skilled and productive workforce, getting proper equipment and tools in our shops is the first step.
I'd like to add to that and say that reinstating apprentice counsellors is a huge thing. There is nothing that breaks my heart more than when I sit in my office and talk to past trades students who come in and want to know why they can't find jobs, why welders were getting
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hired left, right and centre five years ago. They went and took their welding ticket to find that there are no welding jobs.
I agree that the student has some responsibility to look into the market and find out what jobs are going to be available, but it would be excellent if we also provided them with a little help to show them which trades are going to be in demand and which ones are already saturated with workers.
Our last recommendation is the development of rural transit. The B.C. government made a commitment this summer to getting all post-secondary students a universal pass, the U-pass. While this is a great benefit and leap forward to students in large urban areas like Vancouver, it is not a policy that seems to take the needs of rural B.C. into consideration.
We're not saying that transit is not important to students who are attending in rural areas — quite the opposite — but their needs are very different. What students at Selkirk College need is a later service so they can get home after school and actually finish their classes; some weekend service so students who live on campus can get groceries without a 90-minute walk into town along the highway, often in weather below zero.
Most important of all is the improvement of the intercommunity service that would allow students to live at home and still study. After all, this is one of the main goals of the rural college system.
Without these service improvements, it's totally inappropriate to suggest that college students who attend North Island College, the College of the Rockies, Selkirk College or any other rural college should be the ones to subsidize a system that in no way meets their needs.
While we recognize that the province is not the only party responsible for this initiative, it would be a great start if they would begin to fund transit in these areas in a way that meets the needs as well as pays more than lip service to the government's commitment to a greener B.C.
In conclusion, the recommendations made in this presentation are not just a positive direction for students at Selkirk College but are important for rebuilding the economy of British Columbia.
The B.C. government is focused on rebuilding the economy by turning B.C. into a low-tax jurisdiction in order to attract corporate investment. Given the economic realities that British Columbians are facing, we do not believe that this is the best move. The money collected from tuition fees this year will be greater than the revenue that the B.C. government collects from corporate income tax. It's a sad time in B.C.'s history when corporations get breaks from the government that have done little to stimulate the economy as promised, while people trying to better themselves face the opposite.
The Selkirk College Students Union supports an improved post-secondary education system that contributes to a flourishing province for all British Columbians.
The recommendations presented here today — reducing tuition fees, increasing institutional funding, eliminating student loan interest, offering more non-repayable student financial aid, trades and transit funding increases — do not represent solutions that are going to turn our system around tomorrow. Instead, we hope that they're a start to a sustainable economic future that will have long-term benefits for all British Columbians.
Thank you very much for your time today, and I very much look forward to any questions you might have for me.
J. Les (Chair): We have a few of those — one from Don.
D. McRae: Thank you very much for your presentation. Two parts, if I may. First of all, what is the cost of tuition for an average full-time student at Selkirk — both just tuition fees and maybe the full year of going to school, including living costs?
D. Lubbers: Well, I think that would depend largely on the program they were in. But if we take university arts and sciences, which tends to be the standard for measuring how much an education costs, it's roughly $400 a course. A full-time course is five per semester, so $4,000 a year in tuition fees.
If you're in the sciences, it's not unusual for you to pay $150 to $250 a book, so that would be another $1,000 there. The cost of living in the Kootenays is not as cheap as some people might be led to believe. I was shocked when I moved here myself from Kelowna. I thought my rent would go down substantially; it didn't. Students can fully expect to pay at least $500 a month for rent. Food is no less costly here than it is anywhere else, but the cost of getting around is much higher.
So we're looking at a substantial amount of money to be paid, particularly when student loans only cover about $12,000. It's also worth pointing out that while there may be fewer borrowers in the student loan world this year, the amount of money they've needed has broken the bank, federally. The federal government has been asked for more money to fund these students.
The cost of an education is growing faster than our student loan programs can seem to accommodate them. That, I think, is due to a lack of proper funding, particularly at the per-student level.
D. McRae: Thank you. Just as a follow-up, are you sure you take ten courses a year as a student? When I was in university you took five courses, and you paid once for a semester course. The only reason I ask is because at North Island College, in my community, our costs for a
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university academic course, whether science or arts, is probably half that.
D. Lubbers: Then people are very lucky at North Island College.
D. McRae: It's a beautiful place.
D. Lubbers: It is a heck of a place. I have friends who live there.
When I say it's five per semester…. I'm not certain when you went to school. Since about '95 it's very common for programs to no longer be full-year courses. Generally, they're cut up into English 100 and English 110 for the second semester, although if you wanted a comparison back to your day, that would have probably just have been English 100.
D. McRae: Thank you for making me feel so old. [Laughter.]
N. Letnick: You don't realize that by making Don feel old, we're all feeling ancient.
Thank you for your presentation. I think it's good to see you again. David — right?
D. Lubbers: Absolutely, Norm.
N. Letnick: So here's the big question. Obviously, like any household, the government has limited resources, and it has to choose where it's going to put those resources. You've given us five great objectives. The first one about reducing tuition fees is the same across the board whether a student or a family has a lot of money or doesn't have a lot of money, so we can debate that one for a long time, but I won't do that.
Let me ask you this: given those five priorities that you've come up with — and some of them are unique; we haven't heard them before — which one would you want the government to move on first?
D. Lubbers: I would say that all these things are important as a picture. If I were to pick one, I would say reducing tuition fees back to 2001 levels. And while I agree with you that the province of B.C. has a finite amount of resources that they can only allocate in so many ways, I would say that comparing the finances of British Columbia to the finances of my household is a little simplistic and that the role of the B.C. government is perhaps a little different than the role of household.
I personally believe that the government of B.C. has the ability to borrow more in times of economic crisis than a household at an interest rate that is much lower than I can get as an individual and that by reinvesting in British Columbia now when things are tough, when we might need to borrow a little bit more than we'd like to, we're going to come out of this thing running a lot faster than we would be.
D. Donaldson (Deputy Chair): Thanks very much for the presentation. If you could provide a copy, that would be great, because I think you had some specific points around transportation that are different from some of the other presentations we've heard, and I think that's valuable information. So if you can provide Hansard a copy.
The question I had was around tuition. There was a study done by Statistics Canada in 2005, and what it actually said was that moderate increases in tuition in professional programs doesn't impact enrolment. But when you see large tuition and fee increases like we've seen in B.C. in the past nine years.... When that happens it changes the demographic of who can access education. It might not change the enrolment levels, but it changes who gets access. And in a province…. I think we think that fairness means that not all the good ideas come from people who are able to afford education better than others — right?
I'm wondering if you have examples of stories or people that you know where tuition has been a deciding factor of them not being able to access their education needs.
D. Lubbers: I laugh just because you ask if there are any. There are a lot of people who are not able to go because they cannot afford the tuition fees here. It was worse when I was in Kelowna, quite frankly. And there are a lot of factors for that. When Gordon Campbell was going to school, and maybe some of you were going to university at the same time, they could pay for their tuition and books based on minimum-wage levels at that time in a couple of weeks. And that doesn't include cost of living, obviously. But now you're working two months at minimum wage just to cover your tuition fees.
Tuition fees have gone up far more than inflation and certainly far more than minimum wage, which unfortunately, a lot of students are getting these days. As I'm sure you know, a lot of great-paying jobs no longer exist in this area. Gone are the days where a lot of students are getting jobs at Cominco or Celgar or a local mill for the summer, where they can get a job that's paying them 18 bucks an hour so they can go to school. Those jobs don't exist anymore, and we're still looking for people to get into school.
I think you're right. The demographic does change. When you make it about your ability to pay to get into school as opposed to, necessarily, your grades or whatever it is, we shortchange those people. We create a system wherein they're never going to be as productive members of British Columbia as they could be. That's
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very sad. We're keeping them down rather than trying to help them up.
I think that if we wanted to create a better British Columbia, we would reduce these barriers that are based on finance and make the barriers…. I've heard the argument made before in the past that: "Well, if we made education free, it would be really hard for people to get in. Your grades would be high."
I wish I had that problem at the school. I wish students had to compete just based on their grades to get in and not how thick their wallet was, because that's the wrong reason to be at school.
M. Mungall: Thanks very much for your presentation. You bring up a lot of very important points, and I'm just left thinking about my own experience in university. When I went, it was the same situation as you guys. I'm not as old as my colleagues over here.
D. McRae: Thanks for rubbing it in.
M. Mungall: No problem.
J. Les (Chair): Enjoy it while it lasts.
M. Mungall: Exactly.
A lot of what you're saying is exactly some of the things I experienced in Alberta, which I think is really interesting. When I was going to school ten years ago in Alberta, Alberta had the highest student debt in the country outside of the Maritimes, and now it's B.C. Alberta had the fast-growing tuition rate, and now it's B.C. Alberta had the worst rate for non-repayable student needs–based grants. Now it's B.C.
So it's an interesting shift. I tell you: it's not because I came over here either.
You also brought up access. What I really hear…. We talked about debt loads and having to work to pay tuition. Whoever is able to work minimum wages and pay tuition at the end of two months is, I think, fortunate, because I remember that in my situation I worked four months at minimum wage and still couldn't afford tuition.
That's what I hear a lot from people now. They're really struggling even after working for four months.
Sorry, you're probably wondering where I'm all going with this. It's the poverty issue. I really want to talk about the poverty issue. The Bank of Montreal Financial Group just came out with a study today where two-thirds of the public that were surveyed believe that post-secondary education is too costly, and high-school students are fearing that they're not going to be able to foot the bills.
There are going to be students living in poverty — not just the macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese has got to be a luxury at this point. Parents are worried that they're not going to be able to foot the bill for post-secondary education. And yet, 75 percent of jobs are going to be requiring post-secondary education.
What kind of situation are we creating here for students in terms of poverty, and is it going to be something that just with that post-secondary education they're going to be able to get out of because they're also facing that debt?
D. Lubbers: Well, I mean, I think you bring up a very excellent point. Where we're heading is disaster, in my opinion.
You're right. A lot of jobs require post-secondary these days. A lot of people graduating from high school are not able to go, or if they do go, are generating tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt.
A lot of people, particularly people from low-income families, are debt averse. They are afraid of that debt. They are afraid of being under it for the rest of their lives. It is sometimes difficult to see a benefit to you ten years down the road when you have to take on $40,000 of debt right now.
I think if we don't change how we're moving in this province, we're going to have to import skilled labour from other places while our own population works at Wal-Mart.
V. Schwarz: Hi. My name is Varenka Schwarz, and I'm the executive director for the Selkirk College Students Union. I just wanted to add to that. Students, while working, while being at school.... Their success rate at school diminishes as well, because they are stressed with having to work more and finding other ways to subsidize.
We have food banks on campus that support them and that are being used increasingly at higher rates every year. I do believe that the strain of having to find two jobs — one on the weekends, one in the evenings — trying to do school, plus your labs, plus all the cost of textbooks, definitely affects the quality of life.
Graduating with a $40,000 debt just prevents you from moving forward and becoming an active member in society where you can get a loan for a house, get a mortgage, get a car, get all these other things that eventually we need to do as adults, and which we, as students, are unable to do in the future.
I'm a graduate from early childhood care and education, so I echo what I heard from them. I am no longer working in the field, because I can't afford to pay my student loan plus my living expenses. I am paying about $1,000 extra for the money I borrowed for every year that it takes me to pay, and that will be 14 years.
In the end I will be paying twice as much as what I borrowed for an education that is giving me a wage between $12 and $19 — no more than $19 — as a manager at a daycare. It's very unfortunate that the system
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that we are creating is not supporting the needs of the graduates.
D. Lubbers: And sadly, people with these debts are not buying houses, and they are not buying new cars, and they are not buying as much in the community, and they are not paying as much taxes. They are less productive British Columbians than they could be, and that's a shame.
It's one of those things. If somebody is making a decent wage in a town like Castlegar, he is going to spend that decent wage right here in Castlegar, supporting local businesses and doing all those things that we like to talk about. But if they don't have the education behind them because they can't afford it, we're not going to get it.
J. Les (Chair): Okay. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon.
That concludes the delegations that we'll be hearing from today.
The committee adjourned at 4:17 p.m.
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