Sep 23, 2009

The recent secretive, haphazard spending cuts should be repealed


Almost daily we wake up to news of yet another important program or initiative whose funding has been cut by the BC government. Literacy initiatives, high school sports, programs that protect women and children from violence, arts and culture: hardly an area of social service provision has been spared.

These cuts have been devastating to many service delivery agencies and will result in the cancellation of programs that benefit the least fortunate in our society: children growing up in low income families, women at risk of violence, the poor. In a recent news release, the CCPA has called for the government to repeal all the cuts made since the February budget.

Make no mistake: these cuts are made because our provincial government wants to end up with a smaller deficit at the end of the fiscal year, not because we cannot afford to help vulnerable groups during a serious recession. Despite the recession, BC is one of the wealthiest provinces in this country. Our provincial debt is relatively low. We certainly have the capacity to cushion the blow of the economic downturn to the more vulnerable individuals and families among us. But our government is choosing not to.

In fact, in their obsession with minimizing the size of the deficit, our policy-makers are pushing people into further hardship. And those who have to endure the pain are those who can least afford it. Kudos to Bill Good for recognizing this simple fact on his CKNW show this morning.

The savings from reduced government grants to social service agencies are $354 million, a mere 0.9% of the overall $40 billion provincial budget for 2009/10. These cuts could easily have been accommodated in only a slightly higher deficit.

The recession is temporary, and so are the current deficits, but the lost educational opportunities for children would never be recovered. It’s penny wise but pound foolish to cut funding to programs that have already been pared to the bone and that provide services with long-term payoffs.

The government is trying to create the impression that cuts are concentrated among “nice to have” but non-essential programs. This is simply not the case. Many of the initiatives that are now being cut have been set up to fill a need that exists because the government is not providing adequate social services and supports out of its core budget. Literacy initiatives, supports for violence against women and children or seniors’ activity programs that keep people healthy and out of hospitals should not be left to the whim of discretionary grants funding. We need to ask ourselves questions such as whether we prefer to pay for programs that enrich the lives of disadvantaged children as they grow up, or for policing and anti-gang measures a few years in the future.

The secrecy with which these cuts have been implemented is also egregious. Without knowing exactly what is being cut, we cannot evaluate the impact of the cuts, and without openness and transparency it is simply not possible to have an honest public debate about priorities. This is why we’ve launched our own effort to track the cuts and we are asking affected groups or individuals to come forward and share their stories.

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