Making our voice heard: Engaging with BC’s new government

Earlier this month, BC’s NDP government released their first budget which mapped out an initial financial plan for our province. I was, like many of you, happy to see new social spending (even though some bigger promises were noticeably delayed) and the overall reaction to the budget has been mainly positive. Importantly, it also provided some clarity about the NDP’s approach to governing and some initial objectives that have helped inform The Federation’s approach to engaging with our new government.

Because of the work put into The Federation’s election strategy, the February Social Policy Forum, and months of diligent effort by The Federation board and staff team, our organization is well prepared to educate and engage with social care Ministers and Deputies. These efforts are already underway. Over the past few weeks, Federation board members and I have met with Honourable Minister Conroy from MCFD and Honourable Minister Simpson from Social Development and Poverty Reduction.

We spoke with Minister Simpson about employment programs and some of the challenges in serving particularly vulnerable populations. We made clear our interest in (and our hopes for) a poverty reduction plan and a basic income pilot. Minister Conroy is very familiar with the community sector and her level of knowledge resulted in a thoughtful, informed discussion about the challenges currently facing the sector.

Both meetings were positive, productive, and we feel confident that this government understands the importance of caring for the citizens of BC. And I’d like to recognize the effort made by many of our Board Directors who made time to travel to Victoria for these important meetings—sometimes taking multiple days out of their already busy schedules.

In the coming weeks, we will also be meeting with Honourable Minister Chen(Childcare), Honourable Minister Farnworth (Solicitor General), and Honourable Minister Darcy (Mental Health and Addictions). These meetings, combined with our analysis of the budget, are putting The Federation in a strong position to work with the new NDP government. (You can access a recording of our budget analysis webinar on The Federation website.)

However, this does not mean our work is done or that the road ahead will be easy. We cannot become complacent or assume that a sympathetic government will need no encouragement, direction, or reminders of the issues we’re facing and what’s at stake. This is a crucial time to bring issues forward. And the upcoming Select Standing Committee consultations are an important opportunity for us to do just that.

You can be assured that The Federation will be making a presentation and I encourage all of our members to sign up as well. Join us and make clear the key points we have brought forward over the past years—the need for increased funding to community social services, wage parity for the sector, workplace violence, procurement, sector-wide training, and the need for a continuum of services and support for our most vulnerable.

Details about the Select Standing Committee hearings were announced this week. New to the process this year is a consultation portal to register for a public hearing. (You can also make a written, audio, or video submission or complete a survey.) A link to the consultation portal can be found here. The full list of public hearing locations, dates and times is here.

We’ve been preparing for this moment for a long time. I strongly encourage Federation members to attend a public hearing and make a presentation. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity and do our part to make things altogether better for the people of BC.

Rick FitzZaland
Federation Executive Director


Supporting our youth: Tuition waivers and the Youth Education Bursary

Last Friday, like so many of you, I was thrilled to hear that the Provincial Government has expanded it’s tuition waiver program to include all 25 of BC’s public post-secondary institutions. It is a step in the right direction to provide meaningful support to young people who have been in care. Beyond the actual support, this program will provide I also feel like this move reflects a positive shift in an attitude about caring for our citizens.

Our Premier had this to say about the decision, “I believe it’s the genuine power of giving people opportunity, that once someone, an individual, has hope and has people at their back, they can achieve virtually anything.”

I have to say I am hopeful about a government that has the backs of our community members. And this did not happen by accident or chance. It did not happen quickly, and it would not have happened without a concerted effort on the part of many. This is a reminder of why The Federation and many other organizations must continue to use our voices to create conditions for change. It’s a reminder of why we work with our colleagues in government to make things better for the people we serve.

In 2009 Federation members created the Youth Education Bursary to encourage and support young people to develop a career in our sector. Since 2009, the bursary program has provided over $160,000 in funds to over 130 recipients! I believe that programs such as this helped pave the way for Friday’s announcement.

The efforts of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, the steps post-secondary institutions like Vancouver Island University have taken, and the advocacy efforts of groups like Fostering Change have all contributed towards creating a climate that makes tuition waivers across the province the next logical step. When Fed members decided to raise funds so that we could welcome young people from care to work alongside us in social services you helped move this issue along the public agenda.

And of course, your organizations do this every day by providing caring support to so many people. The Fed will continue to be a place where we can creatively raise these issues in the consciousness of the greater public.

Last week’s commitment from the government was a welcome hand up for many young people, and yet we cannot rest; the challenge for youth in transition is not over. And the challenges facing many of our community members remain. This government has shown in its early days that they are sympathetic to the issues we care about.  But there will always be difficult decisions, and competing agendas, so we need to remain vigilant in our efforts to inform sound and just social policy.

If you have not already done so I encourage you to register to attend the Member’s General Meeting on Friday, October 13th. This event is open to all Federation members (full, associate and honourary). We have invited a number of social care Ministers to speak; we are pleased to confirm that Honourable Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General and Government House Leader, will be attending.

This will be an excellent opportunity to connect with our new government leaders, and with each other. I hope to see you there.