More than a dozen groups, organizations, unions and individuals asked for more provincial cash on Wednesday during a Kelowna stop by MLAs taking input on what should be funded in the 2020 B.C. budget.
“Well, we have 29 recommendations,” said Paul Faoro, B.C. president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
“We’re the largest union in B.C., representing 97,000 workers. We feel it’s time for the library sector to get some extra attention, and we’re demanding the provincial government eliminate funding to elite private preparatory schools and provide more funding for kindergarten to Grade 12 public schools and public post-secondary institutions.”
The select standing committee on finance and government services is travelling around the province accepting input from people in person, by teleconference, by email, mail and through website submissions.
The Kelowna stop was at the Best Western Hotel. Consultation ends June 28, and by August the committee will forward recommendations on what priorities should be included in next year’s budget.
CUPE represents 3,700 library workers across the province, 30,000 support staff in public primary, middle and secondary schools, and 15,000 support workers at public colleges and universities. The union also represents 30,000 municipal workers throughout B.C.
More than a decade ago, the province froze annual funding to B.C.’s 247 libraries at $14 million.
The union asked for that amount to be bumped to $20 million a year so poorly paid library workers, who are mostly women with part-time hours, can get a raise, pension and benefits.
The additional funding is also needed so libraries can be literary and digital hubs for citizens, especially rural and Indigenous communities that need access to the internet, according to the union.
The union said $41 million in provincial funding in 2019 went to elite private prep schools, when it should be going to public schools.
Faoro also doesn’t like that public colleges and universities are now funded only about 50% by the province for operating costs.
It used to be 60% a decade ago, 80% in the 1980s and 90% in the 1970s.
“It’s hard to call them public institutions when public funding has declined to almost less than half,” said Faoro.
Coincidentally, Okanagan Regional Library CEO Don Nettleton spoke to the committee just prior to the union reps.
He, too, pointed out the provincial government funding freeze and asked that Victoria increase its annual contribution to $20 million for all of B.C.’s 247 libraries.
The Okanagan system has seen provincial funding drop from 24% of its annual budget in 2009 to 5% today.
“As the province contributes less, we have to turn to the cities, towns and regional districts in our area for more local taxation,” said Nettleton.
“We have more work to do in reading and literacy, community engagement, digital learning and digital products, and being a community engagement centre and gathering space for seminars, groups and citizens.”
Registered clinical social worker Tina Rader asked for more education and living expenses funding for 19-year-olds aging out of the foster care system.
“We put all this time and resources into them when they are kids and then at 19 just abandon them,” she said.
Representatives from The Bridge Youth and Family Services in Kelowna asked for additional investments to improve addiction and recovery services.
“The Central Okanagan has the solution but does not have the resources to effectively respond to the segment of our community who is desperately seeking our support for their problematic substance abuse,” said The Bridge executive director Celine Thompson.
“As they languish on wait-lists, we waste their fleeting moments of courage to get the help they need and want.”
Other groups that presented to the committee included the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, UBC Okanagan Student Union and Aboriginal organizations.