New legislative session but same bad habits

Only twelve days into the new legislative session in Victoria and it's clear that the next four years is going to be a steady uphill climb for FPSE members and others in BC's labour movement. Whether it was their lackluster throne speech, their mini-budget gift to the province's business community or the legislatively-imposed contract on BC teachers, BC Liberals have shown little evidence that they heard the message that voters sent loud and clear on May 17th.

There's no question that the dynamics in the Legislature have changed. With 33 MLAs on the opposition bench, the BC NDP, under Carole James, have shown they are more than capable of holding the Campbell government accountable. Tough questioning by Opposition MLAs has forced many Cabinet Ministers to fumble and backtrack. Cabinet Ministers Stan Hagen and Wally Opal have found out the hard way that Opposition scrutiny is intense and often unrelenting.

The major frustration for the labour movement has been the government's quick default to legislatively intervene in collective bargaining. BC teachers have seen their basic right to free collective bargaining unilaterally stripped by the introduction of Bill 12, the Teachers' Collective Bargaining Act. The legislation is another chilling reminder of how quickly the BC Liberals are prepared to undermine labour relations stability in our province.

In terms of spending priorities the big disappointments so far have been the government's unwillingness to use current fiscal surpluses fairly. In early September we saw a mini-budget in which the only real improvements were for business; corporate tax rates were cut from 13.5 % to 12 %, a change that amounts to a $400 million gift to BC's business community.

The corporate tax cuts are a wrong-headed approach to spending public dollars. BC's corporate sector is already prospering from record low interest rates and record high commodity prices. The combination has led to a spectacular rebound in corporate profits and double digit pay increases for BC's CEOs. Over the last two years BC's top 100 publicly traded companies gave their top executives pay increases of 36% in 2003 and 52% in 2004. Compare that to the "zero and zero" mandate for BC's public sector and you can see why so many workers see the corporate tax cuts as so wrong-headed.

There are far more sensible ways for government to balance the needs of a growing economy with the needs for improved public services.

For example, at a time when tuition costs are putting affordable post-secondary education out of reach for thousands of students and families, was a $400 million tax cut for business the right choice? When health care in BC continues to struggle with long wait lists, crowded emergency wards and dirty hospitals, could $400 million be better spent improving those services? When children and family services are suffering from chronic understaffing and more kids in crisis, could $400 million have made a difference in that area?

The answer to every one of these questions is yes, but many around the BC Liberal Cabinet table don't seem to be listening. That's why the FPSE is gearing up its campaign to talk directly to MLAs and Cabinet Ministers about the problems we see in our public post-secondary system. As well, we plan to lay out some basic measures that the government can undertake to improve that system now and in the future.

We are starting that dialogue on October 21st when we will appear before the Legislature's Standing Committee on Finance to outline sensible priorities for the up-coming provincial budget that will be tabled in February, 2006. We need to make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible and do that in ways that ensure BC has the human resources it needs to deal with pending skills shortages.

On October 25th FPSE takes that same message directly to the Legislature for our Day of Dialogue. This lobbying effort has been planned to connect our Locals with their MLAs and Cabinet Ministers. As well, we want to use the event to ensure that Opposition MLAs understand our priorities for the post-secondary system.

Our agenda over the Fall months will be an active one. Strengthening the public post-secondary system will be our priority. And with your support and participation we can make a real difference.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.