Alvin Singh: Vancouver politicians must unite to fight B.C. Liberals' attack on civil society

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:

Ӣ 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.

Ӣ 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.

Ӣ 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.




Sep 18, 2009 at 12:11pm

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

Gordon Campbell is not a liberal he is a Neocon and belongs in the BC Con party. We liberals in the now BCLiberal party want our party back after the Neocon hijack of the 90's. The BC Cons can have a leadership convention and we'll send Falcon, Kruger, Campbell, Polak, and Coleman over to run.

We need your help and thank you.

Please please please you liberals/progressives out there buy party memberships, participate in constituency association elections and help us to rid the party of the yoke these fascist hijackers have put around our neck. Lets give them the boot at the next convention. I'm tired of being ashamed when I whisper my political affiliation to folks.


Sep 19, 2009 at 10:02am

Yeah sure, support more Liberals? This is just another way to ensure the entitled stay in power. The Liberals now admit that the chances of getting re-elected to power are slim to none. So why not try and get in through the back door by claiming this isn't their party, someone stole it from them. What a bunch of hooey. Get it right and vote NDP next time and I hope they have no mercy on the elite neocons who think they have the right to govern in their interests only. Fair taxes for all please.


Sep 19, 2009 at 5:28pm

This budget is jeopardizes the economy as much as it does the "very fabric of our society and the viability of our city".

Governments are supposed to increase spending during a recession, not cut spending. That is economics 101.


Sep 19, 2009 at 5:30pm

Seth, about taking back the BC Liberal party. You may want to talk all the progressive liberals into joining the greens instead.


Sep 19, 2009 at 9:49pm

Hey Alvin, Great Article and thanks for helping to clarify how devastating Gordon Campbell's BC Liberal's Budget has been for the British Columbia.


Sep 19, 2009 at 9:52pm

You'll do nothing losers.

Just take it and have another.

Economics 101

Sep 21, 2009 at 12:11am

Spending money when you have none doesn't solve any problems, it just loads you down with more debt so that recovery becomes harder. 'Stimulus packages' are just pablum to keep the voters from realizing that politicians cannot 'fix' an economy. Governments have no money that they haven't already taken from the people they are spending it on. Suggesting that we can 'spend our way out of recession' is tantamount to saying a business can succeed when its only customers are the employees. Sprottshaw isn't known for the quality of its Econ 101 classes... you may want to change schools.

Yes, funding cuts are rough. Reality: tighten your belt and do the best you can until things get better.


Sep 21, 2009 at 9:09am

Supporting the Greens or NDP is absolutely pointless until we get close to the next election. We cannot give EL Gordo 5 more years to destroy the province.

We've got the Zalm's recall and referendum campaign. We all need to support that and help out where we can.

Carole James' new strategy is to try to shame new elected BCLiberal MLA's to vote against Gordo on this. Progressives in the Green and NDP parties as well as those who chose to stay at home, need to assist Carole's efforts by joining the BCLiberal party, taking over constituency associations and threating nomination fights for MLA's that don't join the cause. As well the policy conventions can move noticably to the left and a leadership review could be launched.

Thomas Diaz

Sep 21, 2009 at 9:53am

Sorry "Economics 101" but the vast body of evidence out there suggests that spending money during economic downturns results in a robust civil society that can rebound much more quickly when the economy finally recovers.

Your brand of economic policy is the one that has just been violently discredited in the last few months. The flaw in the argument coming from people like you is that Government should be run like a business. Government and business are two very different entities. One is market based, the other is social based.

Both are vital, but they need to be managed in very different ways. Realizing that and successfully managing those two systems the way they should be managed is mutually beneficial.

Maybe you should have stayed in school, you know...past Econ 101.

Economics 101

Sep 22, 2009 at 4:20am

@Thomas Diaz

You are making the same mistake as everyone else these days: assuming that the previous status quo was one of truly free markets, unaffected by government interference. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and so you have wrongly identified 'my brand of economic policy' as the one that has been 'violently discredited'. What has been proven false is the idea that recessions can be avoided by government tinkering. Lowering interest rates to nothing, propping up failing industries, and trying to FORCE the banking industry into some semblance of order may give the appearance in the short term of recovery (as we are seeing now) but will inevitably fail. The market, and thus the economy, is nothing more than the sum total of society's wants and needs seeking fulfillment through exchange of goods. The fastest, indeed the ONLY, way for that activity to flourish is for it to be unconstrained by needless regulation (I'm not going to get into good vs bad regulation, both exist) and undistorted by government-imposed market conditions.

It follows from this that the best course of action to escape recession is to allow the people to control as much of the wealth as possible, rather than forcing huge sums to be diverted into temporary busywork. Again, keep in mind that government cannot create wealth (and by wealth, I do not mean money), only force it to be diverted into certain places, regardless of whether that follows the needs of society.

Government's role should ALWAYS be to focus on its obligations and avoid the temptation of trying to do too much. If by 'Government should be run like a business' you mean 'Government should only be as big as is absolutely necessary', then yes, that is what I believe. How much more money would we be able to spend on health care and education without 10 billion in infrastructure spending?

This isn't complicated. If you've actually taken a course in macroeconomics, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast.