B.C. needs to change its priorities, fast
// Harrison Pratt

B.C. often tops the lists for highest rates of poverty, especially among children. This is of no surprise, considering our recent history. The 2009 speech from the throne painfully summarized exactly where the priorities of the government had been since Gordon Campbell was first elected as the Premier of B.C.
“These global challenges cannot be resolved by simply more government spending. They require integration, not isolation; partnership, not partisanship; and focus, not fragmentation,” said Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point on behalf of the B.C. Liberals. “The failed responses of the past are no roadmap to the future. They will only take us backwards. The way forward is the path of greater collaboration, freer trade, and coordinated strategies that understand how fundamentally things have changed.”
Regardless of the promises made in this address, which came at the tail end of their nine-year reign, the years of Gordon Campbell’s government had a damaging effect on the people of British Columbia. While the minimum wage had remained at $8 an hour for the entirety of his three terms, an introduction of the training wage in November 2001 proved equally degrading. At a measly $6 an hour for the first 500 hours of labor, first time workers and immigrants were expected to work a full 40-hour week with high costs of living for three months before entering the minimum wage market.
In addition to low wages, cuts to social services such as welfare have had a direct impact on its recipients. The Tyee reported that “between June 2002 and January 2005, a period of 32 months, 6,065 people on welfare died.” A lack of social funding for children from the British Columbian government has had child poverty rates highest in Canada for years.
Not only are a high number of children suffering from the effects of poverty, such as having to attend school with an empty stomach, but public school funding has been decreasing rapidly while, simultaneously, class sizes have increased. Further weakening B.C. schools, Campbell’s inclusion of teaching as an essential service has criminalized teachers for the act of protest through strike when student and teacher support is most needed.
The lack of concern follows into higher education: for post-secondary students, affordability and accessibility to education had been compromised when the tuition freeze was lifted in 2001. This, combined with the decreased public funding for universities, placed the financial burden directly onto students with low incomes and, consequentially, indebted them further.
This is of no interest for the people with power in government. The priorities appear to be real estate and privatization deals – and we saw the perfect example of this with the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Infrastructure that was built for the games, including development in condominiums, arenas, and highways, has a direct relationship with market value for real estate. The federal, provincial, and corporate-funded game of an estimated $6 billion has offered us very little in neither the future of livability in the greater Vancouver area, nor the rest of Canada. The ones who benefited the most were the private sectors making large-scale deals with the Olympics, especially condo developers (not to mention Gordon Campbell’s self-interest in the games with his real-estate profession).
In fulfilling VANOC’s cultural Olympiad mandate “to touch the soul of the nation and inspire the world," the Olympics were used as a type of social cleansing to rid the homeless from their city in an effort to promote livability to the rest of the world. In other words: they needed to sell the city. From a cultural perspective, the 2010 Olympics had very little to do with its actual people and instead represented a city with a false economy. The closing ceremonies were an accurate example of this form by using outdated music business products such as Nickleback, Avril Lavigne, and Simple Plan to represent our culture.
The general Olympian glow had a hold on most people; you could walk down Granville Street and everyone would be in jovial spirits. However, it faded, and we were tricked: all of the above were just the economies of entertainment. Never mind the cultural Olympiad giving a false representation; the key is in understanding how our city is operated, and not in our identity. We all know we could not reap what was sown into the Olympics, as that was for the people on top to profit from. Ultimately, the Olympics came down to profits over people. Meanwhile, we live in a city that is grinding down the majority of its people with its high costs of living and unjustifiable cuts to social services.
Now in the post-Olympic years, we can see that some changes have begun. Recently, the training wage was abolished with the departure of our former premier as of March 2011. As of May 1, 2011, the minimum wage had been raised to $8.75, and is now $9.75 as of November 2011; it is expected to rise to $10.25 by May 2012.
Although we are making steps in the right direction, there are many things to consider in terms of ameliorating the situation we live in. We must bring attention to the issues that exist within our community, and ensure that they are present at the forefront of politicians’ minds. Ultimately, it should be remembered that as a community we are all affected by each other, and that we are each only as strong as the weakest link.
Harrison Pratt is a musician, former Capilano film student, and resident of East Vancouver. His experiences working minimum wage and handing over most of his income to pay for his previous education have led him to write about issues affecting the low-income population of Vancouver

//Harrison Pratt, columnist
//Graphics by Tiffany Munoz

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com