Latest poll shows problems for BC Liberals



    VANCOUVER, Aug. 29 /CNW/ - The old adage of "may you live in interesting
times" has never been truer than will be the case for BC politics this Fall.
The BC Liberals were on the receiving end of some very disturbing news
recently, news that will force them to reconsider many of their policy and
funding priorities.
    The disturbing news came in the form of the most recent public opinion
poll showing that their once commanding lead in terms of voter support had
completely evaporated. According to the poll done by Angus Reid, the BC
Liberals' popular support is now trailing the Opposition New Democrats by
three percentage points: the BC Liberals had the support of 38 percent of BC
voters, while the provincial NDP had the support of 41 percent.
    To anyone that had been following the Spring legislative session and some
of the subsequent actions of the provincial government over the last several
weeks, the decline in popular support for the BC Liberals is not much of a
surprise. Premier Campbell seemed to foreshadow his party's decline in support
when he introduced an unprecedented election gag law designed to completely
eliminate the ability of any advocacy group to speak out during the 12 months
prior to a provincial election. The proposed law so outraged groups on both
the left and right that the government was forced to amend it, a move that
still imposes harsh restrictions on freedom a speech.
    In our sector of post-secondary education, the government blindsided
institutions, faculty and students with their announced 2.6% cut to
post-secondary operating grants. The surprise in the announcement came from
the fact that all of the institutions were in the second year of a three year
budget plan, a plan that the government had initiated and argued would provide
greater stability. Without any consultation or warning, that plan was
completely undermined by the news that close to $60 million in funding would
be cut from the post-secondary education system.
    The mid-March funding cuts created a groundswell of opposition. Faculty
and students signed petitions, organized rallies and intensified the public
pressure. They appealed to municipal councils who, in turn, pressed government
MLAs and Cabinet Ministers for answers. The Minister of Advanced Education
tried to allay fears, but only added to the confusion and sense of outrage.
Even the government's own appointed Board members at various post-secondary
institutions found themselves forced to criticize the cuts.
    The government's problems were by no means confined to post-secondary
education. Heath care, programs for seniors, school closures in the K-12
system, questions about the effectiveness of the new carbon tax, all these
measures were beginning to chafe with the general public.
    But it seemed the last straw was the government's decision to
unilaterally increase the salaries of its top-paid deputies and assistant
deputies. The increases were staggering: they ranged from 22% to 43%. They
provided absolute increases that were greater than the average family income
in BC. However, the most galling aspect was that the increases were announced
late on a Friday afternoon when the government hoped most British Columbians
would not notice. More to the point, they were announced after the Premier had
left for Beijing and wouldn't have to endure tough questions on the home
front.
    The cumulative effect of these policies has left the government
scrambling to find ways to regain popular support. For the first time in their
mandate as a government the BC Liberals will have to do something that they
have avoided: listen to voters and address their priorities.
    And this is where life in BC politics will become very interesting
indeed.
    The pressure to listen will intensify in the coming weeks. There is a
by-election slated for Vancouver Fairview sometime in the early Fall.
Pre-budget consultations will begin in the coming weeks. A new school year
starts in K-12 and a new semester begins in post-secondary institutions. The
full impact of the 2.6% cuts will take effect this semester.
    Post-secondary educators plan to take an active role in all of these
events because we believe that the government's approach to post-secondary
education needs to change. Hopefully, the latest polling numbers will act as a
wake-up call to a government that has tried to ignore good policy and operate
unilaterally. BC deserves better and hopefully Premier Campbell is prepared to
listen.





For further information:

For further information: Phillip Legg, FPSE Communications, (604)
788-2877 (cell); plegg@fpse.ca

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Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC

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