By Alvin Singh
It should be clear by now that the provincial budget released by the B.C. Liberals on September 1 is nothing short of an attack on civil society. The cutbacks unveiled in the days leading up to the budget announcement, and within the budget itself, signal the beginning of a potentially devastating era for the City of Vancouver. Only active cooperation between city council, the board of education, and the park board, working alongside a broad coalition of civil society stakeholders, can stop it.
In quick succession, we have seen cuts and service reductions to arts and culture, education, health, and the environment in a way that jeopardizes the very fabric of our society and the viability of our city. These cuts include:
”¢ A $110-million cut in annual facilities grants for schools, almost guaranteeing classroom cutbacks to cover basic maintenance of buildings.
”¢ A provincial budget freeze meaning Medical Services Plan premium hikes and contracted pay increases for teachers, nurses, and seniors support workers will not be covered by the province—leading to more frontline service cutbacks.
”¢ The cancellation of $130,000 in funding to support competitive sports competitions for all K-12 students in B.C., leaving over 100,000 young B.C. athletes on the sidelines while the B.C. Liberals continue to invest heavily in the Olympics.
”¢ Funding for the arts reduced from $47.8 million in 2008-09 to just about $3.7 million in 2010-2011, representing a cut of about 90 percent. This is a return to 1971 funding levels for a sector that represents more annual revenue generation than the forestry and fishing industries combined and returns $1.38 in taxes alone for every $1 invested.
It is critical that, collectively, we regard these attacks as more than mere cutbacks to individual sectors. Instead, we need to understand these drastic funding cuts for what they really are: a systematic attempt to pit sector against sector in the midst of some of the most devastating cuts we have seen since the B.C. Liberals took office in 2001.
Just as important is the need for Vancouver’s citizens, politicians, and civil society organizations alike to work together and understand that these cuts, regardless of the sector, affect us all as a city. Civil society must play a key role in demanding that our entire civic government (city council, the board of education, and the park board) unite to reverse this attack and that all sectors be seen as equally important and fundamentally connected by the provincial government.
Cuts to the arts do much more than affect artists, theatres, galleries, and production companies; they attack the creative fabric of our urban society in a way that undermines independent thought, creative expression, and our connection to each other. Cuts to education affect more than just students; they are an affront to a notion of community that holds all children deserving of an education that values their point of view and their role in shaping their city. In this new era of unprecedented attack upon our city as we know it, ignoring these connections is a grave oversight. Acknowledging these connections, however, is only the easiest step.
Currently, city council is considering the effects of the devastating provincial budget as it develops the upcoming municipal budget. All indications suggest that the results will be cuts—the exact opposite of what we need in these challenging economic times. In the coming days and weeks, the Coalition of Progressive Electors school trustees, park commissioner, and city councillors will stand ready to engage in a coordinated and concerted approach to defend city services and institutions far too vital to be pillaged by the provincial government.
But this stand will require much more than the resolve of COPE elected members. Vision Vancouver, Non-Partisan Association, and Green elected members must also join us to stand against these provincial cuts in a united front. All members from all parties should see clearly that this is no longer a question of political position, but is instead a matter of civic principal.
Will the elected members of our city come together to demand what is best for Vancouver, or will we fail each other because of some outdated sense of partisanship and personal gain? On behalf of COPE, and for the sake of our civil society, I hope the direction all parties and all politicians take is the united one. It is time for all citizens and civil society organizations to demand it.
Alvin Singh is the external chair for the Coalition of Progressive Electors.