The all-party committee on finance and government got an earful from Kootenay residents during the public consultation meeting in Trail Tuesday morning.
Every fall, a select standing committee of MLAs host 17 public consultations across B.C. to give citizens an opportunity to present ideas for next year’s provincial budget.
Although each community has its own unique concerns, an overall message the MLAs are hearing is the need for a balanced budget, according to Dan Ashton, Penticton’s MLA and committee chair.
Ashton might be a familiar name to local citizens. His family owned the well known retail store, Ashton’s Ladies Wear, in downtown Trail until the early 2000’s.
“I’ve heard loud and clear that people realize times are difficult and there are constraints,” said Ashton. “But people want government to ensure those hard earned tax dollars are looked after and that they want a balanced budget.”
Ashton conceded that during the public meetings, speakers from municipalities, and various societies, agencies and education institutions are asking the committee to consider increasing allotments to keep up with inflationary times, which was a recurring theme during the Trail meeting.
Selkirk College Student’s Union representatives Natalia Swartz and Zachary Crispin were first to speak, and emphasized how funding cuts have impacted the student body as a whole.
“Cuts in funding increase student debt and create a system that does not meet the needs of high quality accessible education,” said Swartz. She recommended an increase in funding to the college, a decrease in tuition fees, elimination of student loan interest and further non-repayable student aid programs.
Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy members spoke about the key role the program plays in educating adults and families of all ages, and asked for $2.5 million to “support literacy in our province.”
Selkirk College representatives submitted a written report to the committee and emphasized the challenge to provide education and training to meet the needs of the workforce in B.C. in light of the net zero and cooperative gains budget constraints.
Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union was next to the podium and spoke of “sharing instead of constant and unexpected downloading on school boards,” the need to review the current fiscal policy, and closed with “families are first but the government can’t find money in the budget to educate children in B.C.”
The importance of sports in the Kootenays was addressed by Brian Fry and Donald Stevens from the BC Alpine Ski Association, although they didn’t ask for an increase of funding, but “to request the same amount that we’ve received in the past.”
Jessie Renzie, a registered nurse from Kaslo, gave an impassioned speech about keeping healthcare a priority in rural communities, and the hardship losing 24/7 emergency care would cause the Kaslo community.
The BC Touring Council executive director Joanna Maratta requested continued investment in the arts with an $8 million increase in the budget each year for the next three years. The council’s current operating cost is $23 million, and with top-up would be $32 million in 2014/15 and $40 million in the 2015/16 budget.
Abra Brynne, program manager for Food Secure Canada and director with BC Food Systems Network was last to speak, and focused on food systems, policy and the preservation of province farmlands. “How vital and precious is our land,” she said, adding “any jurisdiction that cannot feed itself is at the mercy of whoever can.”
The consultations began last month, following the release of the budget consultation by Finance Minister Michael De Jong. The parliamentary committee is required to compile the public presentations in a report to submit to the legislative assembly Nov. 15.
“I can assure you there will be a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of everything the committee has heard, “said Ashton. “We’ve heard from a broad cross section of folks today and have much input to consider.”