A number of constituents recently contacted me regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses. To start the new year, and in anticipation of the upcoming provincial budget to be tabled in February, I wrote to the Minister of Education to ask that he consider removing the barriers to educational access that his government put in place in May 2015.
A non trivial component of the government’s surplus has come at the expense of those who can least afford it. Cuts to those seeking to upgrade their high school education to pursue work and educational opportunities do nothing more than perpetuate the poverty trap.
I reproduce the text of my letter below.
January 4, 2017
Honourable Mike Bernier
Ministry of Education
PO Box 9045, Stn Prov Govt
Dear Minister Bernier,
I’m writing to you today in light of concerns that constituents have brought to my attention regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses.
Since the subsidy was removed in May 2015, adults now face a fee to upgrade grade 11/12 courses, generally $500-$550 per course. This fee is placing a huge burden on families and individuals looking to upgrade their high school education and pursue work and educational opportunities.
I have learned that at the South Island Distance Education School (SIDES) in Victoria alone, there are hundreds of students who are unable to afford the fees of upgrading their courses, and thus remain on the waitlist; many more don’t even apply to join the waitlist, discouraged from doing so when they learn the cost.
In particular, these fees harm those who are seeking to upgrade their courses at secondary schools, since only courses taken at postsecondary institutions are eligible for tax deductions, reimbursement under RESPs, or the Adult Upgrading Grant.
This situation leaves a significant gap in our support for students, leaving those who upgrade their courses at secondary schools to pay course fees and to go without the financial assistance that benefits students at postsecondary institutions. It is not always an option to attend a post-secondary school: many low-income individuals need the flexibility of distance learning to enable them to balance their studies with their work.
I have heard from families who are struggling financially to help their children cover the costs of these courses. For others, the cost is too high a barrier to overcome, preventing motivated individuals from upgrading the courses they need to attend college or university, and therefore foreclosing the opportunities that would otherwise become available to them.
Currently, the BC Government is penalizing people who return to school, and preventing so many from upgrading their education and realizing the associated opportunities.
Please act to make adult education more accessible. This would be best achieved through reinstating the subsidies to these courses. In the absence of these subsidies, I ask you to extend the eligibility requirements for upgrading grants, to encompass students who upgrade their courses at secondary schools.
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head
Constituency Report is a public service that Shaw TV graciously offers MLAs. This month’s video is provided below.
Judy Fainstein and I once more tried something different. The first segment follows the usual discussion of legislative issues relevant to Oak Bay-Gordon Head and British Columbia in general. In the second segment, I introduce Maxwell Nicholson, Director of Campaigns & Community Relations with the University of Victoria Student’s Society. We explore a number of issues facing students in Greater Victoria.
As always, I’d be interested in your feedback on this constituency report.
For immediate release
Oct. 17, 2016
Weaver Comments on Vancouver School Board Firing
Victoria, B.C. – “For public education to thrive in British Columbia, the provincial government must work effectively and in partnership with Boards of Education to put students first,” said Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party and MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head. “Minister Bernier’s announcement today is yet another example of how the dysfunctional relationship between the B.C. Liberals and Boards of Education results in the spending of more time and money on opposing each other than on finding solutions that will benefit students and teachers in the classroom.”
“We need to build relationships that establish trust. Education in B.C. needs a fresh start. The B.C. Greens are committed to working collectively with all stakeholders to make public education a priority and put the interests of BC students first.”
“With the cancelling of the fall Legislative session, this major decision was made without parliamentary oversight, allowing the B.C. Liberals to avoid being held accountable for their continued mismanagement of our public education system.”
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Office of Andrew Weaver, MLA
Today I had the honour of addressing the delegates to the 2016 Convention of the Union of BC Municipalities in my capacity as Leader of the BC Green Party. I took the opportunity to announce that effective immediately, the B.C. Green Party will no longer accept any corporate or union donations. We are a party of the people, for the people and that will be mirrored in our funding structure.
Please let me start by thanking the Union of BC Municipalities for providing me this opportunity to speak to you today.
The last time I stood before you was in 2013, shortly after I was elected as the MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head. Now I stand before you as the Leader of the BC Green Party, a party that has grown dramatically over the last few years — a party that is ready and excitedly awaiting the 2017 provincial election.
Politics wasn’t originally in my career plan. I was a Canada Research Chair at the University of Victoria working in the field of climate science.
Anyone who has attended a public lecture or class that I have given on the topic of global warming will know that I boil the entire issue down to one question.
Do we the present generation owe anything to future generations in terms of the quality of the environment that we leave behind?
It’s a complex question that science cannot answer. But if we do believe that the answer is yes, then we have absolutely no choice but to take action now.
To these same classes and in these same public lectures I note that our political leaders do not have to live the long-term consequences of the decisions that they make or don’t make.
Yet these very same decisions will have a profound effect on the type of world we leave behind to our children.
That’s why I subsequently point out that it’s critical for the young adults in the audience to participate in our democratic institutions. And, I’d say to them:
“If there are no politicians willing to tackle those problems, then they should convince someone to run that they can get behind or even consider running themselves.”
Eventually, I knew I couldn’t keep doling out that advice if I was not willing to follow it myself.
So here I am. And here we are.
Ultimately the reason I got into politics is probably very similar to the reason all of you got into politics. I care deeply about my community.
I wanted to do what I could to better it for present and future generations.
And, I was profoundly troubled by the direction that this province was heading.
I could no longer stand on the sidelines and watch the dismantling of British Columbia’s leadership on the climate change file as our government pursued an utterly unrealistic fossil fuel windfall from a hypothetical Liquefied Natural Gas sector in a desperate attempt to win an election that nobody thought they would win.
But, as I learned in my scientific career, and as I tried to teach my students, criticism is easy. What’s more difficult, yet far more valuable, is being constructive in one’s criticism.
If you’ve been watching the BC Greens in the Legislature over the last three years you’ll see that we’ve tried to offer government solutions to the problems challenging our province.
The BC Green Party is a solutions-oriented party — one that fundamentally believes that policy should flow from evidence.
I like to call this evidence-based decision-making, as opposed to what happens too often in politics today — decision-based evidence making.
In the face of sexualized violence plaguing our college and university campuses I didn’t just demand the provincial government do better and publicly thrash them in the media.
My team and I did the research, we consulted far and wide, we asked the right questions, we held town halls, and we wrote the legislation for them.
The government passed my bill within the month. It is now law and our students are safer because of it.
We’ve been able to make significant progress on MSP reform, housing, and affordability, but there is much more to be done.
In my speech to the UBCM in 2013 I emphatically stated that the BC Liberal’s promised LNG industry was not going to materialize. BC becoming a major LNG exporter was nothing more than a pipedream.
It didn’t take long for those promises to start unraveling. But the province is still scrambling to chase a falling stock, doubling down and selling out future generations along the way.
I’ve been saying the same thing now for almost four years.
The market did not, does not and will not, support a BC LNG industry anytime soon.
I stood alone in the BC Legislature voting against the LNG Income Tax Act; I stood alone voicing my opposition to the direction the province was heading.
While the Leader of the Official Opposition was noting:
“we’re going to stand side by side with you and vote in favour of it” (it being the generational sell out embodied in the LNG income tax act),
the BC Liberals were promising 100,000 jobs, a 1 trillion dollar increase to our GDP, a 100 billion dollar prosperity fund, the elimination of the Provincial Sales Tax and thriving schools and hospitals from the wealth to be created by LNG.
And they promised it would already be happening by now.
It is fiscally reckless for us to continue to hope that a nonexistent LNG industry will magically materialize while ignoring the enormous potential British Columbia has for a prosperous future.
Rather than hanging onto, or trying to go back to, the economy of the last century we should be positioning ourselves as leaders in the 21st century economy.
We have a unique opportunity in British Columbia because of three strategic advantages that we have over virtually every other region in the world.
But for British Columbia to actually capitalize on our strategic advantages, we must ensure we protect them.
A quality public education is not the luxury of a strong economy. A quality education is what builds a strong economy.
And we must start thinking about the long-term consequences of our decisions, decisions that put people, rather than vested corporate or union interests or re-election goals first and foremost.
So where do we go from here? In the shadows of the massive challenges that we face, our province needs new leadership.
Leaders must have the courage to be honest with British Columbians about the risks and consequences of any government decision.
We need leadership that offers a realistic and achievable vision grounded in hope and real change.
We need leadership that places the interests of the people of British Columbia — not organized union or corporate interests— first and foremost in decision-making.
As a start, political parties must stop accepting corporate and union donations in order to rebuild public trust.
Take the recent Mount Polley experience. The corporation that operates the mine is a substantial donor to the BC Liberals; the union representing the workers at the mine is a substantial donor to the BC NDP.
Whose interests are being served? Who is there to represent the people of British Columbia?
British Columbians and organized groups like the Dogwood Initiative and Fair Vote Canada have been calling for a ban on big money in politics for quite some time.
Our political parties and their MLAs should not be reduced to puppets controlled by corporate or union puppet masters with a firm grip on their purse strings.
The acceptance of this practice is undermining every sector in our province and I am tired of waiting for the B.C. government to do something about it.
I am tired of listening to the official opposition say they will change the system only if they form government. That’s not leadership.
Leadership means leading by example. And the BC Greens commit to doing just that.
Effective today, the B.C. Green Party will no longer accept any corporate or union donations.
We are a party of the people, for the people and that will be mirrored in our funding structure.
Could this move hurt us on the eve of an election? Yes, it could. But real leadership doesn’t come from doing what is easy. It is built on doing what is right.
Leadership means inspiring others to act in ways that contribute to the betterment of their society and it can’t just rest with one person. Everyone here has the opportunity and responsibility of joining me by taking on this mantle of leadership.
In 1962 John F. Kennedy announced that America would send a man to the moon by the end of the decade. He didn’t know how it was going to be done. But he knew, and I quote, “we must be bold”.
He went on to say:
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win”
If ever there was a time to be bold it is now. Over the coming weeks and months the BC Greens will lay out a bold vision for a prosperous future.
We’ll start discussions on, and offer pathways forward to, the challenges facing our province in areas such as: affordability, homelessness and poverty, climate change and the decarbonization of our energy systems, responsible resource development, education and health care.
And we’ll do this not because it’s easy, but rather because it’s hard and because it’s the right thing to do. Because the challenge is one that BC Greens will accept as we work towards offering British Columbians a new choice in the 2017 election. An election we intend to win.
On Tuesday, the WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre held a rally in Vancouver to kick off the school year with a call for post-secondary institutions to address sexualized violence and support survivors on campus. I was invited to speak at the event but, unfortunately, was not able to make it over to Vancouver on that dat so I sent the organizers a copy of the speech I had prepared.
Below is a transcript of the speech that their Executive Director Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer graciously read on my behalf.
I am pleased to have been offered the opportunity to send along some information about the legislative progress that has been made relating to sexual assault policies over the past six months.
First, please let me provide some context on how I got involved with this topic – for most of my life I have either studied at or worked on university campuses around the world. For the last two decades, I have been a professor at the University of Victoria, the same university I attended as an undergrad in the 1980s.
My professional responsibilities are now largely centered around the legislature and my position as the MLA for Oak Bay – Gordon Head and Leader of the BC Green Party. But I still spend a great deal of time working with, and speaking to, students and young adults and have been absolutely sickened with the seemingly endless wave of stories about sexual assaults happening on and close to universities and other post-secondary campuses in B.C.
This past Spring I arrived back at my legislative office after a meeting in Vancouver to find my staff eagerly waiting for me with a campaign pitch and copies of Ontario legislation on their desks.
“Sexualized violence is a massive issue in B.C.”, they started, “and there is so much we can do to improve the situation – starting with colleges and universities.” One sentence in and I was on board. We immediately got to work, reviewed Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, and drafted up a B.C.-version of their Sexual Violence and Harassment Action Plan Act.
We compiled a list of over 50 student societies, assault support centres, and key people across the province and contacted each one for input.
On March 8 I introduced Bill M205: Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act. The bill, based on similar legislation introduced in Ontario, was designed to address the pervasive occurrence of sexualized violence plaguing universities, colleges and other post-secondary institutions in British Columbia.
Noting that many post-secondary institutions lack sexual-assault policies, few have on-campus sexual assault crisis centres, and hardly any collect related incident data, the bill was designed to create a legal responsibility for universities and colleges to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for victims.
The act would also require university and college-specific policies to be developed that would meet the needs of students, including education and protection, while working to create a safe environment for all students to come forward to report a sexual assault.
With an estimated one in three women and one in two transgender individuals experiencing sexual assault in their lifetime, this is a community issue that desperately needs to be addressed and post-secondary campuses present a unique opportunity to intervene.
The week after I tabled the Post-Secondary Sexual Violence Policies Act I followed up with the Premier in question period.
Noting that action on this issue was long overdue, she pledged to work with me to officially pass a version of my bill – urgently before the spring legislative session ended in May. I was thrilled with the progress on this pressing issue. I have since met with the Minister of Advanced Education to discuss next steps in moving this forward, and will continue to consult with students, survivors, support groups and university faculty and staff to make sure their voices are included as we build these laws. Sexualized violence in our communities is a huge problem, but it is important to remember that it is also a problem with incredible potential for progress.
With the start of the school year upon us it is important to remember that your universities and colleges are now legally obligated to develop and maintain policies that would work to prevent the occurrences of sexual violence and provide support for victims. These policies must be developed in consultation with the student body, and they need to be implemented by this coming Spring – one year from when the bill passed. If you feel that your school is not fulfilling their responsibilities, engage with your student society, ask the administration what policy progress has been made and how you can provide input to the policy development process. If you have additional concerns, you are always welcome to call my office at the legislature.
I am grateful to be able to work on this crucially important issue and owe a debt of gratitude to the incredibly courageous survivors of sexualized violence who have spoken out and help move us all forward.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide a few remarks, I wish you all a successful and safe term!