In the mountain of material presented with the 2011 BC Budget (OK, much of it was an electronic mountain) there was one remarkable nugget of candor.
Each ministry and agency is required to prepare a Service Plan that is published with the Budget. These were initiated originally to provide more transparency in government work. Over the years they have become increasingly opaque. Reshuffling ministries and changing the format in which information is presented makes it almost impossible to compare things over time. The Service Plans have largely become extended press releases.
But this year the Legal Services Society service plan broke the mold. The Society offers legal representation for financially eligible people with serious family, child protection, criminal, or immigration problems, as well as information and advice services designed to help people resolve legal problems on their own.
In the report outgoing Chair D. Maryland McKimm QC makes the following point:
As I depart, the Legal Services Society is on a stable, albeit significantly reduced, footing. In the board’s assessment, however, the society is now providing services far below what the board believes is needed to properly assist British Columbians with low incomes and to effectively support the efficient operation of the justice system.
Would that we could see this kind of candor in other ministry service plans. Health care funding in BC is the second lowest in Canada. The Finance Minister took great pride in this during the Budget lockup before reporters. In fact, the Budget documents show the government plans to actually reduce health spending as a portion of the GDP in coming years.
School Boards are in the same position. Yes, funding per student is up in dollar terms (though not up as much as inflation). But education spending as a percent of our GDP is falling. In 2009 education spending equaled 5.8% of BC’s GDP. By 2013 it is predicted to fall to 4.9%. From 2009 to 2011 education funding will actually fall by $27 per capita.
Post secondary education is probably the most important investment a government can make. Spending is virtually frozen and tuition fees continue to go up.
Environment funding is falling as are supports for the disabled and the arts.
This is the price we have paid for over a decade of tax cuts that largely benefited corporations and the well off.
So hats off to D. Maryland McKimm for penning the one service plan that had the courage to talk about providing services far below what British Columbians need.