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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2002

B.C. Slashes Public Spending — Eliminates 12,000 Jobs

The British Columbia government has unveiled a package of deep cuts in government spending and mass layoffs of public service workers in an attempt to meet its election pledge to cut taxes while balancing the provincial budget within three years.

In total, nearly 12,000 jobs or one-third of the public service is being eliminated. There are also stringent new rules affecting social assistance recipients and many services for the unemployed and those in need of retraining are being eliminated.

"We were elected with a clear mandate to restore sound fiscal management, revitalize economic prosperity and protect and renew health and education," Premier Gordon Campbell said at a news conference Jan. 17. "Government spending has increased far beyond our rate of economic growth over the past decade and is simply not sustainable."

However, commentators say the government's weakening fiscal outlook has more to do with a sagging economy and its tax-cutting agenda than with out-of-control spending.

"The notion that we can't afford our social programs, that B.C. is living beyond its means and has the most expensive social programs in the country is simply untrue," said Seth Klein, director of the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "B.C.'s public sector is already the second smallest in Canada on a per capita basis and government spending relative to the size of the economy is the third lowest."

Despite the promises that education is being protected from the government's axe-wielding, critics say the province's colleges and universities will soon be facing hard times.

"While the liberal government's new era plan promised to strengthen post-secondary education, the direction it's taking now will hurt students and communities," said Maureen Shaw, president of the College Institute Educators' Association of B.C.

Shaw says the spending freeze being placed on the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education's budget explains why many important organizations and programs are being eliminated, including Training Assistance Benefits, Institutional Based Training Support, the Industry, Training and Apprenticeship Commission and the Contract Training Marketing Society. In addition, funding is being eliminated for the Kootenay School of the Arts, the three theological colleges located at the University of British Columbia, and the B.C. Centre for International Education.

The government also announced it is continuing to review the tuition freeze that has been in place since 1996, but in the meantime many students are already feeling the sting of the new era of spending restraint. The government is ending funding for Student Summer Works and Youth Community Action which assisted businesses and nonprofit organizations to hire students during the summer. The Work Study program, providing funding for universities and colleges to hire students in financial need, is also being scrapped along with the province's Graduate Assistantships grants. The Canadian Federation of Students says more than 10,000 students will be affected by the elimination of these programs.

In an unexpected move, the government revealed the Ministry of Advanced Education will be reorganized into two branches, one dealing with public institutions and the other dealing with private institutions.

"This unprecedented change is the clearest indication yet that the provincial government intends to substantially increase the role of private post-secondary education institutions in the province and give them the right to grant B.C. degrees," said Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia.

The Ministry's new strategic plan, unveiled the same day as the announced program cuts, promises to "create more choice for students by enhancing on-line learning, expanding transferability of credits earned between institutions and exploring the potential for pursuing degrees from a wider variety of institutions, both public and private."

Reflecting on the overall cuts, B.C. Federation of Labour president, Jim Sinclair, called the government's plans a "body blow to the province's economy and social fabric.

"The Premier is not just eliminating the livelihood of thousands of British Columbia families to pay for his reckless tax cuts. He's destroying child protection. He's slashing our ability to plan and deliver health services. He's gutting the tribunals that protect workers' rights. He's reducing public security. He's eliminating women's centres. He's destroying the agencies that work to generate jobs and investment."

Sinclair said the federation is moving ahead with Campaign B.C., a program of action to protest the cuts in services and staff.

CAUT president Tom Booth is encouraging faculty members to get involved in the campaign.

"The values that underline public education are under attack in B.C.," Booth said. "I think it will be important for university and college staff to work together in their local and provincial organizations and with coalition partners to help preserve the values we share."

The B.C. Federation of Labour's action plan, including a major rally and march in Victoria Feb. 23, is available at

The B.C. government's full three-year economic and fiscal plan will be released Feb.19.