(1) 250.472.8528
andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca

Social Development

Responding to the June 2017 Speech from the Throne

Today in the Legislature I rose to speak to the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne. As I noted in my brief media statement following the Throne Speech, the about-face taken by the B.C. Liberal government is astonishing.

For the first time, we now have all-party agreement on major issues like banning big money, investing significantly in child care and raising social assistance rates. All three parties now support holding a referendum on proportional representation that will give British Columbians a legislature that reflects our province’s diversity.

The B.C. Liberals have been in power for sixteen years and until now actively opposed many of these policies. I am pleased to hear of their willingness to work across party lines. After all, what could be more stable than all three parties working together to advance major policies that will benefit British Columbians.

However, the Throne Speech vote is a confidence vote that is a matter of trust. We cannot have confidence in a government that for sixteen years has argued against these policies, and in the last few days has suddenly recognized that they are in the best interests of British Columbians. We will look to the Liberals to demonstrate a genuine willingness to follow through on these commitments regardless of where they sit in the legislature.

Leaders from all three parties have recognized that the results of this election present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on both sides of the house to deliver on the change British Columbians voted for.

Below I reproduce the text and video of my response to the Speech from the Throne.


Text of my Response


A. Weaver: Mr. Speaker, please let me be the first to congratulate the members for Surrey–White Rock and Kamloops–North Thompson for their maiden speeches in this new parliament.

I rise to speak in response to the throne speech. Now, in the 2017 election, the B.C. Greens ran on a new vision for British Columbia that we will put at the very centre of all our decision-making in the months and years ahead. There are three central tenets that underpin our vision that we explained and took to British Columbians in the 2017 election.

First, the B.C. Greens believe that it is the moral responsibility of government to promote the health and well-being of British Columbians. Everything else that government does should serve this purpose.

Second, we believe that equity should be a fundamental value of government and that government should operate in the best interests of not only the present generation but, also, future generations to come. We, too, should leave a better world to the next generation, as our parents did for us. Frankly, this looked like we were heading to be the first generation in British Columbia where we would hand off to the next generation an environment and social systems and an economy that were not the same as we inherited from our parents. It was trending downwards. It is the future of our children and our grandchildren, not only our own well-being, that is at stake in the decisions that we make today in this Legislature.

The third central tenet is that the government should act as stewards of our public resources to ensure they benefit all British Columbians, both today and into the future. Our natural resources cannot continue to be harvested in a Loraxian fashion for the short-term gain and benefits of a privileged few.

Interjection.

A. Weaver: I was asked by the member for Powell River–Sunshine Coast to provide an explanation of “Loraxian.” Well, I asked people to go and read the Dr. Seuss book called The Lorax. The Lorax quite beautifully illustrated what happens when you when you think not as to the consequences of your decisions today, where you focus only on short-term gain and the benefits of a few.

You know, our core central tenets may seem obvious. But they’ve been fundamentally lacking in our province in my view, in our view, far too long. The B.C. Greens offered a vision to restore these core values to government and to improve the lives of all British Columbians. Our vision included this.

Our vision was a vision to seize the opportunities in the emerging economy by supporting dynamic business development in a changing economy, to invest in early childhood education, not simply daycare, to give our children the strongest possible start, to invest in public education.

Over $4 billion was found in our budget, a fully costed budget, to invest in public education and lifelong learning, to ensure people had the knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful in the economies of today and tomorrow.

We had a vision to tackle climate change head on while positioning B.C. at the forefront of economic opportunities in the transition to a low-carbon economy. We had a vision to ensure that all British Columbians have their basic needs met by piloting basic income and increasing welfare rates, so that they never fall so far down that they cannot get back up again, that those less fortunate than many here are not stuck in a poverty trap that they can never escape from.

Our vision was to ensure that everyone has access to the means that support a healthy life. Our vision was based on the conviction that government should make decisions based on principles and evidence, not political calculation and political opportunism. Our vision was based on the conviction that government should put people’s interests first, ahead of special interests and corporate or union donors.

Our vision was based on the conviction that B.C.’s economy comprises and should benefit every British Columbian, not just the wealthy few. Our vision was based on the conviction that prudent fiscal management is essential. We cannot burden future generations with poor planning and short-term decision-making today. Our vision was based on the conviction that planning and government decision-making should extend beyond the next election cycle and that we need to consider the long-term effects of our decisions and actions.

As the B.C. Liberals have said many times, governing is about priorities. In considering the throne speech, we should do so in the context of how it lives up to our priorities and the values that we as B.C. Greens ran on. We ran our election campaign on many of the policies that the B.C. Liberals have just embraced in the throne speech.

Before this election, I spent four years in the Legislature pushing for action on these issues, as did other MLAs, advocacy organizations, experts and concerned citizens; pushing for issues like removing the influence of big money from our politics; pushing for issues like addressing our unacceptable rates of poverty in this province, raising social assistance rates and implementing a poverty reduction strategy.

We were pushing for action on investing in childhood education to address the childhood care crisis affecting families across British Columbia and to provide children with a strong basis for lifelong learning to enable them to succeed in the challenging economy of the 21st century.

We were pushing for discussions on issues to take meaningful action on climate change, to ensure that the world we leave for our children is no worse than the world our parents left for us.

The B.C. Liberals’ astonishing about-face in this throne speech raises the question: after 16 years of operating on one set of values, how can British Columbians trust that they — that is, the B.C. Liberals — truly believe in this new set of values?

How many of the members opposite, for the first time, when they heard the throne speech, said: “We stand for this now?” How many of the members knocked on the doorsteps in the last election, campaigning for child care, campaigning for increased education funding, campaigning for a poverty reduction plan, campaigning for basic income? I suspect none — certainly not in my riding and certainly not in the many ridings in British Columbia that I went to on behalf of the B.C. Green candidates running there.

I come back to this. How can we trust that this change, this change in principles and values so fundamental — not just “add a little of this, add a little of that” — a fundamental and structural change in values…? How can we believe — how can we trust — that this change was based on principle and integrity as opposed to pure cynical political calculation and the desire to continue to stay in power?

British Columbians have been calling on this government for years to ban big money. I’ve forgotten how many times the Leader of the Official Opposition has brought in legislation. Six it is. To that we could add a couple times that Bob Simpson and Vicki Huntington did as well. I would have done it too, had it not been done so many times before. Each and every time, this fell on deaf ears. Each and every time, nobody listened.

The B.C. Liberal response was: “We’re going to report out more often. We’re going to rub in the fact that we’re accepting corporate and union donations — outrageous donations — from companies that we have to make key strategic decisions on, on behalf of British Columbians, and we’re just going to just tell you about it a little more often.” Shocking.

British Columbians have been calling on banning big money for such a long time, yet the government has refused — until today. Now the B.C. Liberals have committed to banning big money, today, and yet continue to rake in millions from corporate donations. Witness: within three days of the election, the B.C. Liberals raised $1 million dollars from their corporate backers. Shame.

A government that is principled, a government that leads through conviction, is one that practises the behaviour that they expect others to model. I challenge the B.C. Liberals today to stop accepting corporate donations, as the B.C. Greens did in September of 2016. If they were truly committed to banning big money, they could follow our lead — the lead that we put to British Columbians in September of 2016, when the B.C. Green Party stopped accepting union and corporate donations.

Let’s go to bridge tolls. This one is remarkable. To this day, the B.C. Greens stand against removing the bridge tolls, but we recognize that as a budgetary measure, we would support the budget brought in by the new minority NDP government.

But let’s come back to the cynicism and political calculation. During the election, the Minister of Finance told British Columbians this: “The decision to forego all toll revenues in the way the NDP announced…will guarantee a credit downgrade. This decision in and of itself is sufficient to lead to a credit downgrade.”

So now, a mere six, seven weeks post this statement, we no longer have to worry about a credit downgrade. Is this about political conviction, or is it about political calculation?

That was April 10 that that statement was made. Now we’re talking about unexpected surpluses, and nobody is concerned about the credit rating anymore. Well, I am, and the B.C. Greens are, which is why we do not support removing tolls on the bridges that exist and have not supported, all along, in a consistent matter, because we believe it is good fiscal policy.

What are the revenue implications of toll bridges? They’re not a one-year budget consideration. It’s not something that you can change without long-term consequences. What justifies this change? We don’t know.

What about the sources of new money? Thirty of the 48 throne speech initiatives outlined in the government news release were nowhere to be found in the Liberal election platform. Now, I recognize, and I have respect for, the fact that the throne speech was offered with humility. They recognized that British Columbians had sent a message that the direction the province was going in had to change. But the government now has said that it can finally make these 30 of the 48 throne speech initiatives that weren’t there, because they have suddenly found new money.

Well, I’m not sure where the new money was found, because we haven’t had the fiscal year update yet, and that’s not going to be announced till either later this week or next year. I’m wondering where this money is coming from. Just two months ago, the Minister of Finance cautioned against many of the promises that the B.C. Greens and the B.C. NDP made. He said this: “The suggestion that these promises can be accommodated within a balanced budget, absent massive tax increases, is simply absurd.” Who do we believe now? Now they can be. They now suddenly can be found in the budget, at the 11th hour.

At the 11th hour of a government on its way out, they promised to implement many of those exact same promises that were too costly to do, yet they haven’t been clear on where the money will come from. The generally accepted accounting practices used by the government dictate that any unspent surplus from a previous fiscal year is allocated to paying down the budget — full stop. Has the government suddenly changed that policy to a policy that we haven’t discussed? That’s what the government is supposed to do: pay down the debt with any surplus that exists from the previous budget. We aren’t even through the first quarter of the fiscal year. So I’d be surprised if the government had reliable updated financials from this year yet.

This statement that suddenly there’s more money, frankly, is akin to promises that we’ve seen, historically, of 100,000 jobs, a $1 trillion increase in GDP, a $100 billion prosperity fund, debt-free B.C., thriving schools and hospitals — the famous unicorns in everyone’s backyard — as a consequence of an LNG industry that doesn’t exist. There was the elimination of GST, PST, and on and on. Within the fiscal framework of the budget they tabled in February of this year, there was no room for long-term planning to ensure that there is stable funding for these new promises — no room whatsoever.

How can British Columbians trust that this government has intention to follow through with these new promises, when they are premised on a surprise surplus? Is this just more politicking with the provincial budget, now that it has become politically expedient to invest in government services? I ask these questions because they get to the heart of the question of trust. Is this truly a genuine principled about-face? Or is this simply more of the same politics that British Columbians voted to change?

The initiatives that were announced in this throne speech should not be treated as throwaways, as treats to buy votes in an election year, in an attempt to retain a grip on power or as a surprise bonus when there’s an unexpected surplus. These policies need to flow from a principled vision for British Columbia and a plan on how to get there — principles and plans that the B.C. Greens offered in the last election campaign. The government arrives at this astonishing change; perhaps they did arrive at this genuinely. Who knows?

Either way, we cannot have confidence in a government that for 16 years has argued against precisely these same policies and that only in the last few days has suddenly recognized that these policies — put forward by the B.C. NDP for, say, 12 of the 16 years and by the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Greens for the last four years — are now suddenly in the best interest of British Columbians, without a clear demonstration that the change is driven by principles and not simply political expediency. Principles are demonstrated through action, and we simply haven’t seen the actions from this government to justify our confidence in it.

To see the faces on the members opposite as the throne speech was read out was truly a remarkable event. You know, I only had three words for the member from Chilliwack afterwards, after the throne speech was read, and it was these. “Well, well, well,” I said to the member from Chilliwack, who clearly was aghast, with his mouth near his chest, as he listened to the words during the speech from the throne. My colleagues here remember one too many well, well, wells over the years.

With all of that said, we have an incredible opportunity here. I do believe it’s actually an exciting opportunity. Never before have we had such potential for each and every MLA in this Legislature to represent their constituents before their party. That’s exciting. That’s exciting because we have a chance to put people ahead of party politics, backroom politics, and I hope that we can do that.

The Liberals, the B.C. Liberals, over the course of a 40-minute throne speech, did a 180. Actually they did a 720. They did a 320 and a 320, and it was dizzy on a significant number of their policies and priorities. I think that’s great. I think it’s great that they now believe that they should be able to work when those policies, those similar policies, are brought forward under an NDP minority government. They’ll work towards ensuring that they’re implemented in a manner that we can all support, and that is an exciting, exciting opportunity.

You know, I can just imagine. Today at first reading, we didn’t vote for two bills, because we have not tested the confidence of this Legislature. The first bill was a rather expensive bill for the B.C. Greens to not vote for, to grant us party status, but it was the principled thing to do. But more importantly, the second bill, on banning big money — I have had a chance to look at it briefly, because we were just given a copy — has elements that I think would be wonderful amendments to a bill or some of the bills that have been brought in historically by the B.C. NDP. There’s ground for a stable government moving forward, where we actually take the best ideas from both sides of this House.

Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals have had 16 years of not listening to any of the amendments or ideas being put forward in the committee stage from bills, and now we have an opportunity to actually make that work. That is very exciting.

The B.C. Greens will work with every member of this House in good faith in the pursuit of good public policy. That is our goal. That is what we’ll focus on. The opportunity, as I said, that we have to improve the health and well-being of British Columbians is now bigger than ever, and we must proceed with respect for the electorate. I emphasize: we must proceed with respect for the electorate to make this government work and not play cynical political tricks in the desperate attempt, the desperate quest, to retain power. This is not about power. This is about respect for the electorate.

“The results that British Columbians delivered in the May election require cooperation,” the throne speech read. “Your government is committed to working with all parties in the Legislature,” the throne speech said — as are we. “British Columbians,” the throne speech said, “want a stable government, and in sending us this result, they expect us to listen and find a way to work together. They expect us to collaborate, while respecting the dignity, rules and traditions that govern our constitutional monarchy, our democracy and this Legislature.” I could not have said it better.

[R. Chouhan in the chair.]

That is precisely what British Columbians want, which is precisely why we need to get on with the business of governing this province, dealing with the issues that need to be dealt with and moving towards having a confidence vote in the present government as soon as possible.

You know, hon. Speaker, the throne speech also said: “With that in mind, instead of focusing on areas of disagreement, we should reflect on who it is that we are and what we share in common.”

Again, I agree entirely, and I’m excited and thrilled by the prospects of actually having everyone in this House work towards good public policy in the province of British Columbia, one that reflects the diversity of views, one that’s not artificially constrained between this dichotomy that has been artificially created between rural and urban areas.

It’s offensive to British Columbians to continue to hear this urban versus rural divide. It is only a divide because the B.C. Liberals have made it a divide. When you say, year after year, to rural British Columbians that they are somehow different from urban British Columbians, you create a divide. That’s irresponsible governance. It’s not putting the interests of British Columbians first. There’s nothing different between a person living in Kelowna, Fort St. John, Prince Rupert, Victoria or Cranbrook. They’re all British Columbians, and they all want the same thing — a quality education, quality health care, a strong and vibrant economy and to protect our environment.

The fact that this government, for 16 years, has been driving a wedge between rural and urban folk, frankly, is all the more reason why they need to be put in a time-out so that we can re-establish the trust between rural and urban British Columbia.

We’re starting this term with an unprecedented on-record level of agreement to cooperate and collaborate to resolve the most difficult challenges facing our province — a stable foundation from which to govern. We have all-party agreement on some of our core philosophies and key issues that were outlined in the throne speech.

If the B.C. Liberals are serious about these promises, if this is more than a political gambit, then this House can pass more legislation than ever before on the issues that matter to people, not vested union or corporate interests but people in British Columbia — issues like political and democratic reform, lobbying reform, childcare and early childhood education, solutions to the housing crisis.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we actually debated solutions to the housing crisis? I don’t know how many times the member for Vancouver–Point Grey brought forward solutions to the housing crisis that simply fell on deaf ears as it continued to get away from us.

When we get big money out of politics in B.C., the interests of people will return to the forefront, and we can restore people’s faith in government and show them that government is working for people because, ultimately, there’s a lack of trust in British Columbia that needs to be regained. We can and already are fundamentally changing how politics works in B.C. This is an incredible opportunity.

I will not be supporting the throne speech. I will be voting against the throne speech. But more importantly, I encourage members on both sides to move towards a confidence motion in this Legislature today so that we can actually get on with the business of governing.


Video of my Response


 

Probing the ability of British Columbians to trust the current BC Government

Today in the legislature I was up during question period. I took the opportunity to ask the government how they could be trusted in light of the fact that they did an about face in the throne speech. During the election campaign, the BC Liberals claimed that our platform was unaffordable. Yet now, the throne speech reads just like our platform!

Below I reproduce the text and video of my question period exchange.


Video of Exchange



Question


A. Weaver: February’s business-as-usual budget contained little, if anything, for childcare, education, affordability, those in need of social assistance or the fentanyl crisis. During the election campaign, the Minister of Finance told the Vancouver Sun: “We have resisted consistently the temptation to go out and make all these pledges and promises.” He  argued that they would be unaffordable.

The Minister of Finance further argued this. He said: “The decision to forgo all toll revenues, in the way the NDP announced, will guarantee a credit downgrade.” Now we’re told that there’s $1 billion to spend on early childhood education. There’s money to increase social assistance rates, to invest in parks and to address the fentanyl crisis, and so on and so on. This can only be described as a rather dramatic change of heart.

My question to the Minister of Finance is this: how do you explain to British Columbians that you suddenly found over a billion dollars in the last couple of weeks to fund programs and initiatives that have been dismissed and starved of resources for years, and that this has only happened in the last couple of weeks?


Answer


Hon. M. de Jong: Thanks to the leader of the Third Party. Oops, can’t say that, can I? He voted against that, didn’t he?

Actually, I do appreciate the question, because the answer is pretty straightforward. The economy that was already leading the country, the economy that was already producing more jobs than anywhere else — in British Columbia — the economy that was already, in February, providing more opportunities to more families than anywhere else in Canada has actually gotten better.

I know the hon. member has made the decision to link hands with the official opposition, a party that in past opportunities, used to play a little trick called injecting fiscal optimism into their budgets. We didn’t do that. We didn’t have to do that, because the economy in British Columbia continues to lead Canada.


Supplementary Question


Mr. Speaker: The member has a supplemental.

A. Weaver: Yes, I understand why the economy is booming in British Columbia now. It’s in anticipation of the great stuff that will be coming forward in the next few weeks. Investment is coming to B.C. like never before.

Interjections.

Mr. Speaker: Members, the Chair will hear the question.

A. Weaver: Thank you, hon. Speaker.

Investors are lining up a mile deep to invest in B.C. in anticipation of a kinder, gentler province that will soon be put forward.

Last week, the Vancouver Sun noted that the Premier offered no apologies for dramatically flip-flopping on so many positions from the election. She said she hopes the NDP and the Green MLAs — oops, that’s the third-party MLAs — would feel embarrassed to vote against their own ideas, now embraced by the B.C. Liberals.

My question to the Deputy Premier is this. How can British Columbians trust a government that just wants to embarrass the opposition and holds one set of priorities during the election campaign and another set of priorities immediately following the campaign? And what guarantee do we have that if the B.C. Liberals gain the confidence of this House, those priorities won’t flip-flop and change yet again?


Answer


Hon. M. de Jong: I should provide the hon. member with the technical answer to the question he asked about the dramatic improvement in both economic performance and in the revenues that flow from that. It relates to the reliance that we place on the independent Economic Forecast Council, which for both ’16-’17 and ’17-’18 have adjusted their estimates and their forecasts by over an entire percentage point for the growth in our economy. That is dramatic. It is certainly providing government with more revenues, and the member will see the specifics of that in the days ahead when the results for ’16-’17 are presented.

British Columbia is performing at a remarkable level right now. I know there are members sitting opposite who are salivating at the prospect and — who knows? — may get that opportunity. Were they to get the keys to this car, let there be no doubt that the tank is full, the engine is running on all cylinders and British Columbians are enjoying the benefits of the strongest economy in Canada.

My initial reaction to the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne

Today in the legislature the Lieutenant Governor read the BC Liberal Speech from the Throne. Below I reproduce the media statement that I released following the speech:


Initial Response


Victoria B.C. – Andrew Weaver, leader of the B.C. Green Party, responded to today’s Speech from the Throne.

The astonishing about-face taken by the B.C. Liberal government in this throne speech demonstrates the difference that the B.C. Greens made in the election and that we continue to make everyday with the minority government.

We committed to addressing the most pressing issues facing British Columbians. For the first time, we now have all-party agreement on major issues like banning big money, investing significantly in child care and raising social assistance rates. All three parties now support holding a referendum on proportional representation that will give British Columbians a legislature that reflects our province’s diversity.

The B.C. Liberals have been in power for sixteen years and until now actively opposed many of these policies. I am heartened to see them adopt so many B.C. Green policies that will address these issues in today’s throne speech. I am also pleased to hear of their willingness to work across party lines. After all, what could be more stable than all three parties working together to advance major policies that will benefit British Columbians.

The confidence vote is a matter of trust. We cannot have confidence in a government that for sixteen years has argued against these policies, and in the last few days has suddenly recognized that they are in the best interests of British Columbians. We will look to the Liberals to demonstrate a genuine willingness to follow through on these commitments regardless of where they sit in the legislature.

Leaders from all three parties have recognized that the results of this election present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work together. I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues on both sides of the house to deliver on the change British Columbians voted for.

-30-

Bill M227 — Court Order Enforcement Amendment Act

Today in the legislature I introduced a private members Bill M227 —Court Order Enforcement Amendment Act, 2017. The bill adds Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs) and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) to the list of plans protected under the act.

Registered Retirement Savings Plans (known as RRSPs) were first introduced federally in 1957. Legislation enabling Registered Retirement Income Funds (known as RRIFs) was subsequently brought forward in the late 1970’s.

RRSPs and RRIFs are protected in BC and most other provinces from creditors in the case of personal bankruptcy. Protecting these funds provides a glimmer of hope that individuals undergoing bankruptcy will not be destitute in their old age.

In 2008 Federal legislation was passed to allow for the creation of Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs). The RDSP is a federal, tax-deferred, long-term savings plan for people with disabilities who want to save for the future. Unfortunately, under our outdated Court Order Enforcement Act, 1996, RDSPs are not listed as a registered plan in BC’s legislation and are therefore not exempt from creditor protection. Should an individual with an RDSP go into debt, their savings in the RDSP will not be protected from seizure. The same is true for Registered Education Savings Plans (known as RESPs).  A child should not have their education investment seized due to misfortune that befalls their parents. Alberta has protected RESPs; we should follow suit.

I asked the Minister of Justice about this problem in question period three years ago. At the time, the Minister said that it was an important issue and that she’d be glad to work with me to move it forward. Yet three years have now passed and still nothing has changed. Seeing as I haven’t seen any meaningful progress from the government on this simple legislative change, I decided to offer them a possible solution, yet again.


Text of Bill Introduction


A. Weaver: I move that a bill intituled the Court Order Enforcement Amendment Act, of which notice has been given, be introduced and read a first time now.

Motion approved.

A. Weaver: Registered retirement savings plans are protected in this province from creditors in the case of personal bankruptcy.

Protecting these funds provides a small safeguard that individuals undergoing bankruptcy will not be completely destitute in their old age. It is a good law that most provinces in Canada have adopted.

However, there is no protection for funds that are part of a registered education savings plan or a registered disability savings plan. These are important funds that need equal protection, recognizing that a child should not have their education investment seized due to a misfortune that befalls their parents.

The Alberta government has passed legislation to protect RESPs. It is with this in mind that I bring this bill forward today. This bill amends the Court Order Enforcement Act to ensure that RESPs and RDSPs are protected by law from predators.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Bill M 227, Court Order Enforcement Amendment Act, introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.


Video of Bill Introduction


Fixing a Gap in Adult Education

A number of constituents have contacted me regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses. 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. I received a disappointing response which failed to address the key concerns of the letter.

I subsequently wrote to the Minister of Advanced Education urging him to close a gap in coverage that the policy change had created. When government chose to end funding for high school graduates upgrading  secondary courses, they forced secondary schools to charge tuition to high school graduates. This included public schools, like SIDES or The Link, which offer online classes and are well suited for academic upgrading.

Along with the policy change government introduced the Adult Upgrading Grant, which is administered by the Ministry of Advanced Education and is meant to provide some support for low-income students. However, this grant only covers courses taken at post-secondary institutions and does not include any of the secondary schools which now have to charge tuition to high school graduates. I asked the minister to extend the grant to a more diverse group of schools, in particular to secondary schools which focus on distributed learning and currently have high rates of enrollment for students upgrading courses.

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. British Colombians deserve a government which will make education more accessible for all British Colombians.

Below I reproduce the text of my letter and I will share the response when it is forthcoming.


Text of the Letter


February 12, 2017

Honourable Andrew Wilkinson
Minister of Advanced Education
PO Box 9080 Stn Prov Govt
Victoria BC
V8W 9E2
Canada

Dear Minister Wilkinson,

I’m writing to you in light of concerns that constituents have brought to my attention regarding the high cost of upgrading high school courses.

As you know, in 2015, the provincial government ended funding for students upgrading high school courses, if they have already graduated. Since that policy change, returning students now face a fee, generally $500-$550 per course, to take grade 11/12 course. These fees place an undue burden on individuals, and their families, as they work to expand their professional and academic 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. This does not include the many who don’t even apply to join the waitlist, discouraged from doing so when they learn the cost.

I have written the Minister of Education about my concerns with this policy and am now writing you to outline a specific gap that it has created.

The Ministry of Education still funds high school courses for students who have not graduated. The Ministry of Advanced Education provides support for low-income students who have graduated and are taking high school level courses at one of nineteen post-secondary institutions.

There is, however, no support for students who have graduated high school and are pursuing academic upgrading through institutions other than post-secondary schools. For example, high school graduates attending public schools in Victoria, like SIDES or the Link, are not eligible for tax deductions, reimbursement under RESPs, or the Adult Upgrading Grant.

These two schools specialize in providing a flexible academic environment to accommodate the needs of students. With many returning students are juggling career and family obligations, this an ideal environment for them to return. Attending a school focused on secondary education can also be less jarring return to the education system for many students.

I find it difficult to understand why two students of similar income levels could take equivalent courses that have comparable prices and that only one would receive government support.

As your ministry oversees the Adult Upgrading Grants, I ask that you increase the number of institutions which are approved to administer them. Specifically, I ask that you give public schools that have a focus on distributed learning the ability to authorize these grants.

If you feel that this falls outside the purview of your ministry, then I urge you to coordinate with the Minister of Education and develop a funding program which would achieve the same results.

I fully believe that we should all fund students who pursue academic upgrading, whether or not they’ve graduated. British Columbians have been promised a high school education, and there is more to that than just a diploma. Whether or not someone has graduated, they should be supported as they flesh out their secondary education, seeking to open their mind or opportunities.

At the very least, this government should, fill the gap that has been created by its policy change and provide the Adult Upgrading Grant to a more diverse group of institutions, including specialized secondary schools.

Sincerely,

Andrew Weaver
MLA, Oak Bay-Gordon Head