Op-ed: Premier’s pay-more, get-less approach to education is robbing young people of opportunity

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By John Horgan, leader of BC’s New Democrats


I believe that British Columbia’s greatest and most valuable strength is our people.

Anyone who is willing to work hard should be able to build a great career in B.C. Whether you work at a desk or with your hands – as I did when I was starting out – the key to success is education.

Our grade schools and our colleges, our universities and our trade schools build our provincial economy, but they also put people on the path towards security and prosperity, towards buying a home and starting a family.

But today, parents are worried about being able to save enough to get their child into post-secondary education. Young adults are leaving school and trying to launch careers with tens of thousands of dollars in high-interest debt.

Everyone with a family member in school knows those costs are getting higher every year. So students and their families have a right to expect their tuition fees will be spent on their education.

That’s why it is so disturbing that Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals think its okay for universities and colleges to spend those tuition dollars hiring well connected lobbyists instead.

Think about that. Public universities are taking money out of classrooms to pay lobbyists to plead their case in Victoria. That’s a broken system.

This week New Democrats uncovered that Kwantlen Polytechnic University paid $177,000 over four years to lobbyist Mark Jiles, a well-connected B.C. Liberal insider. During that same time period, Mr. Jiles donated $52,000 to the B.C. Liberals.

Who was responsible for hiring Mr.Jiles? Few should be surprised it was Amrik Virk, former B.C. Liberal appointee to the Kwantlen board of governors, who went on to become Premier Clark’s Minister of Advanced Education. Mr. Virk had to be shuffled out of that job after New Democrats exposed that he broke the rules in order to top up executive salaries at Kwantlen.

Mr. Jiles isn’t the only Liberal party connected lobbyist to earn a big paycheque on the backs of our students. In 2011 and 2012, Vancouver Community College paid $75,000 to another former campaign aide to the Premier, Don Stickney. His lobbying firm has donated thousands of dollars to the B.C. Liberals. Royal Roads University gave $50,000 to the Pace Group – a company that has donated $119,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party since 2005.

We’ve even learned that the new Minister of Advanced Education, Andrew Wilkinson, took students’ money from Simon Fraser University as a paid lobbyist before he was elected.

For taxpayer-funded universities to blow hundreds of thousands of students’ hard-earned dollars on Liberal-connected lobbyists is unacceptable. But this is how government functions under the Clark Liberals: you pay more, you get less.

Under the Liberals, tuition fees have doubled, and British Columbians pay the highest interest rates in the country on student debt.

But even as skills training is more important than ever, the Liberals cut the post-secondary budget by $14 million this year. That’s even more money taken out of college classrooms and trade school shops.

Even our youngest students are getting squeezed by the B.C. Liberals. School districts are being forced to cut another $137 million over the next three years. The Liberals promised school districts they could steer any administrative savings they found into classrooms. The Liberals are breaking that promise in this budget. Now they are clawing that money back.

Under the B.C. Liberals, middle class familes are falling behind. And Premier Clark’s pay-more, get-less approach to education is robbing young people of opportunity and making life harder than ever.