BC Budget 2019 Eliminates Interest on Student Loans

On February 19th, Finance Minister Carol James announced the upcoming investments for a 2019 BC Budget that attempts to address poverty reduction and climate action. Along with the Budget came the much anticipated elimination of interest rates on the provincial portion of student loans, following through on 2017 campaign promises. This announcement is accompanied by other investment in post-secondary including further funding for adult basic education, English-language learning, and trades training.

BC now joins Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in providing interest-free provincial student loans. It is estimated that this will save students a total of $318 million in interest payments.

This follows many years of advocacy on behalf of students and their allies seeking to reduce unprecedented student debt. The most recent campaign undertaken by the BC Federation of Students was a call to action  for the government to address the effects of interest rates on student loans. During the campaign period that began in October, 2,000 emails were sent to Minister James along with over 90 meetings with MLAs during the organisation’s lobby week.

“Students are very happy that the government has listened to our call and has taken this important step towards mitigating student debt,” said Aran Armutlu, Chairperson of the BC Federation of Students. “This announcement will not only help current and future students, but also those who have completed their studies and are struggling to make loan payments.”

This investment is small relative to the scale of the budget, but it will make significant changes in the lives of some of low-income students who are forced to pay more for their education than those able to afford tuition upfront.

Selkirk College Students Union Chairperson, Santanna Hernandez, was present in Victoria for the announcement.

“This is an incredible announcement for BC students. As someone graduating with over $40,000 in student loan debt, this means my education will cost the same as those sitting in the seats beside me. It means students can look to the future to starting families, buying houses and positively contributing to our local economy.”

BC Budget 2019 addressed other issues that effect students such as housing, public infrastructure such as transit and community health centres, accessible child care, and mental health and addiction services.

Though many students across the province are expressing gratitude for the announcement, there is also recognition that this is the only first step  towards addressing the significant debt being carried by many.

The BC Federation of Students is already looking ahead to what steps can be taken next, building off the momentum of the recent recognition of mounting student debt.

“This is welcome relief, but there are also other steps government can take in the future. This includes the creation of an up-front, needs based grants program, and proper funding for our institutions that is coupled with the progressive freezing and reduction of tuition fees. These are issues that students in BC have identified as priorities. With one goal achieved, I look forward to the work we can do together to continue to make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible in our province.”

Open Education Resources Reduce Cost to Post-Secondary

| Chantelle Spicer | In the coming years, students in British Columbia will hopefully be saving some money and having access to more innovative resources due to the work of BCcampus. The Crown corporation, funded primarily through the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills, and Training, works to provide teaching, learning, educational technology, and open education support to the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia.

The organisation announced this year that student savings on textbook costs have reached approximately $10 million – and the savings continue to grow each year. Programs like Zed-Cred that exist at Thompson Rivers University and Kwantlen Polytechnic focus on reducing costs to post-secondary education by enabling students to earn a credential such as a certificate program or associate degree with zero textbook costs.

At Selkirk College, adoption of open education resources has been slower.

Chief Librarian Gregg Currie states that “we are more than happy to do anything we can support more open education resources, but it’s the professor’s choice to use this material – we need are more early adopters here to lead the way. We have a few, but without that critical mass, it is more of a challenge to make change.”

The Selkirk Library holds 55,000 books, rights to 45,000 journals, and a few million full-text articles that can be accessed through the Selkirk Library catalogue, but there are concerns about the trend in how institutions and students can gain access to knowledge and resources.

“In terms of open access there are increasingly more journals that can be accessed. However, for some fields like the bulk of scientific publishing for instance, 50% of that knowledge is held by five publishers.”

This limited access is compounded by regular cuts to institutional funding related to library resources.

“My budget for acquiring new materials has been flat since 2011, though prices go up 7% each year, every year so we are essentially buying 30% fewer resources than I was previously. I understand what students are going through. When I try to buy textbooks for the library reserve, it is painfully obvious to me how expensive it is for students – sometimes it can be $1,000 a semester.”

There is hope for open education resources beginning to shift post-secondary away from the corporate structures of publishing companies and college budget cuts. 

“The nice thing about open education resources is that it is in the spirit of intellectual inquiry moving forward in a free and open manner. That’s the danger of where we are now – five companies own access to half of the world’s knowledge. This concentrated access in very few hands at a very high cost is not a good thing. And smaller institutions like Selkirk are being left behind by pricing models.”

Yasmine Monrose, who is attending Selkirk in the Post Graduate Business Administration program, describes the access to textbooks is another barrier to education outside of the cost of education itself.

“When I am unable to afford the books I have to loan them from the library over night in order to be able to do my assignment. Usually it’s strain. In addition, the library has recently discontinue being able to use some book in reserve overnight. I do not know if this was intentional but I guess it’s a way of forcing students to purchase the text from the book store.”

It is not just within the classroom that increasing expensive and proprietary textbooks impact on students.

“Sometimes buying textbooks means not being able to eat properly for a month,” Monrose explains. “It limits what I can purchase from the supermarket.”

The BC Federation of Students voted unanimously at the July 2018 Semi-Annual General Meeting to donate $30,000 to BCcampus. Increased Ministry funding to the organisation was also recommended in the Federation’s government lobby document for the BC Budget 2019. 

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An Open Student Letter to the Selkirk College Board of Governors

Dear Board Members:
Re: Proposed Tuition Fee Increases – Letter of Protest

As a mature student who has enjoyed Selkirk College credit and non-credit (Distance and ‘Bum-in-the-Seat’) courses for a number of years, I am writing to indicate my dismay by the Board’s planned consideration of a tuition fee increase.

I am a current student, I have an adult daughter who completed her education elsewhere in the province, and I have a son who is a Camosun Plumbing grad, and now a 2nd year Nursing student down on the Coast.

The bulk of my courses have been taken in recent decades while I ever so slowly make progress working towards a degree. I put aside my studies while I raised two children who now experience the same financial struggles I endured. Long, long ago, I was a working student forced out of full-time post-secondary by having to combine a job with part-time studies. I then sought full-time employment in order to retroactively pay for my studies. Lack of affordability interrupted my post-secondary education for longer than my child-raising years. I am a testament to what happens when tuition continues to rise. I tried to stay in school by working during term time, then eventually I had to forgo my studies and just work. With the cost of tuition, school became an ill-afforded luxury. In our family’s case, all three student members have relied on or currently study with the support of external funding, largely due to the fact that tuition in this province is too expensive for many students to afford school without assistance.

My daughter has been paying off her student loans for over ten years, and will continue for some time. Her graduate studies are on the back burner. She is terrified of returning to school for the same reason she didn’t continue her studies more than ten years ago – the prospect of increasing her debt load due to Canada’s relatively hefty tuition fees alarms her.

Last night my nursing student son in Victoria was “on the brink” as he told me he will probably have to find work due to a shortfall in the external funding that supplements his summer earnings. His alternative in finding funds to augment his student loans, will be to take out a loan from our credit union, ​IF t​ hey will approve this for him with his current student loan debt load. (He is a Camosun student counterpart to those here in the Selkirk Nursing program – all will end up with degrees from the University of Victoria). He combines his already heavy course load with two full days a week as an unpaid student nursing clinician in hospital practical sessions, which are mandatory for the school entire year. Despite an amazing scholarship from one of the “big banks”, he, a careful spender who knows how to budget, has already amassed student loan debt and is distracted by the thought of having to repay those loans. That he and his contemporaries are being forced to seek bank and credit union loans in order to support basic living and tuition costs is an unreasonable situation when the country needs medical and other student professionals to graduate debt- and worry-free.

How will our nursing and other professional students find the time to add low-paying or minimum-waged work shifts – precarious employment at that – to their class times, their study hours and their practical clinical obligations?

Financial pressures apply to most Selkirk students … and similarly to ​allstudents in Canada. Students mortgage their lives in order to educate themselves to be productive members of society. Whether they are here at home as student nationals, or whether they will return home, abroad, as Selkirk’s International student graduates, the economic strain for students is palpable.

To add to a student’s financial worries by increasing student debt or by making post-secondary education elusive by rising tuition fees is a disservice to the future of this country.

Constantly, I hear international students on their phones in the cafeteria and in the stairwells begging family members in India or other countries to please find ways to send more money so they can pay their fees before being forced to unenroll. I have received calls from International students imploring me to rent him or her a room for $200 or $250 because “Ma’am I have to pay $5000 tuition, I cannot afford regular (affordable in current terms) room rent.” They are asking their families and the local communities to effectively subsidise their education costs by by increasing their support, or by reducing their charges. Three, four, five students cram into local one bedroom apartments, or one room motel accommodations or single bedrooms in Selkirk’s generous neighbourhoods because they cannot afford to eat properly after struggling to pay tuition that is already expensive.

Students who suffer and worry about their finances cannot concentrate on their schoolwork. They, ​we,​ are desperate. Students simply cannot afford living expenses, ridiculously priced textbooks, and ​current ​tuition fees, let alone a rise in tuition fees.

Selkirk College is renowned for its philosophy regarding accessible education. We have brilliant, committed, compassionate faculty (​wellunderpaid by the way – which is actually a form of tuition subsidy​). We have supportive non-teaching staff, and kind administrators who make it their business to get to know individuals in order to support them throughout their studies. Even the cafeteria staff are full of encouragement as sleepy-eyed students drag themselves through the cash-desk for a decently-priced coffee or for amazing meals that are substantial enough to affordably share with a friend or two. We have janitorial and security staff who are kind and good-humoured to everyone who shares this incredible community, especially after-hours and on weekends when the over-crowded library and “the pit” are in constant use. The Selkirk community is all about access ​and retention. However, if the fees are increased, “we the people” will either not be able to afford to come or will have to leave …

Selkirk’s unique approach to not ​getting in the way ​of student success, but to proactively ensure achievement by cheer-leading from all corners, has to be part of the consideration when fees are discussed. To increase tuition fees flies in the face of all the accessible education programmes for which Selkirk is known. Even the local radio station announcers “wax on” about this beacon of hope, our treasured educational institution located in pockets throughout the region. This is unheard of outside the Kootenays.

The sports teams are called the ‘Saints’ with good reason. The name “selkirk” has its origins in Scotland, and in Gaelic means: “hall”(sel) of “church”(kirk). Selkirk has had a long-held, almost biblical, ​mission ​of protecting post-secondary options for those in need, or “hungry” for an education, i.e. those who would not otherwise have access to affordable studies. Selkirk is a blessing to this province and to the people in the region. As ethical guardians of accessibility we can’t have come this
far to now make an evil mess of what’s so wonderful about this school.

Please reject the notion of a tuition fee increase and instead work to find creative methods to approve a responsible balanced budget that reflects the financial reality of a student’s life. There ​are ​ways … Your board is made up of some very influential and creative professionals who have experience making things work out. Please actually consider something even more reasonable: reduce and/or eliminate fees in the future.

By sourcing funding in ways other than on the backs of vulnerable students who need to not worry about staying in school, (or staying in the country), Selkirk College will sustain its well-earned reputation as a unique and true facilitator of excellence in post-secondary education.

Students should be concerned only about attending to their studies, meeting the obligations of their programs, and honouring the inspirations of their committed faculty. By being successful in their goals to succeed – with an affordable education – students will continue to be patriotic ambassadors of Selkirk college, and that is hardly an unsaintly outcome.

How will students be expected to follow Selkirk’s motto, “​Best of all, inquire​”, if they are not able to afford to maintain studies here?

Let’s not “sell” out Selkirk …

Respectfully yours,
Sheila Perret
TESOL and MTED student 2018-19

Organisations Support Students for BC Budget 2019

| Chantelle Spicer | The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released recommendations for the upcoming BC Budget 2019 that include implications for the post-secondary sector and affordability for students.

The CCPA notes that the lack of funding to post-secondary institutions has contributed to increasing student debt.

“For public post-secondary institutions, provincial operating grants have plummeted as a share of revenue, and institutions have been forced to increase reliance on tuition fees, which is pushing student debt to new heights and eroding the public nature of these institutions.”

The submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services from the Selkirk College Students’ Union recognized this, as well as what this means for the quality of student experience.

“The ongoing pressure faced by institutions has meant reductions in student services and instructional capacity, unmet needs for facility maintenance, and deferral of equipment upgrades needed to ensure that equipment-intensive programs remain effective. While institutions have met the challenge admirably, the cracks in system now stripped to bare bones are showing in reported student outcomes.”

The CCPA also calls for increased supports for students through a comprehensive grants program “for lower-income families with the aim of moving towards a universal reduction and ultimately elimination of tuition fees.”

In the presentation to the Committee, the Students’ Union expressed the need for government to do better for students in the province.

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the Students’ Union stated in the presentation: “In the past, the various government have made claims that, because BC’s tuition fees were about average compared to other provinces, that there was no problem. Without considering the vast living cost differences we see across this country or the objective problems of high fees in all provinces. Frankly, I do not want a government that strives to be average.”

These recommendations, along with others from student organisations and post-secondary institutions across the province, were recognized in the Committees report. In terms of affordability, the Committee recommended eliminating interest on student loans and reviewing “completion grant” and “up-front needs-based grant” models with the aim of ensuring post-secondary students have access to the most beneficial and impactful support.

The BC Budget will be presented in the Bc Legislature on February 19.

Increasing Access to Mental Health for Post-Secondary Students

| Chantelle Spicer | In the beginning of January, the BC government announced plans to provide a 24-hour mental health support service for post-secondary students in the province. This initiative would be a partnership between the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Children and Family Development, and the Ministry of Advanced Education Skills and Training.

This announcement comes following consultation with students across BC including Selkirk College Students Union representatives. Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the Students’s Union, took part in dialogue with Ministry staff in 2018 and is pleased that the government is taking the issue seriously.

“Post-secondary students today are facing unimaginable stressors like rising tuition cost, lack of employment after graduation and difficulty accessing resources during their studies. Projects like this will help fill a need students desperately have.”

Consultation with students is imperative for understanding what is needed for supports, which need to be increasingly culturally and geographically responsive services. BC Federation of Students Chairperson Aran Armutlu states this process has so far been meaningful.

“The Ministry took the time to seek feedback on ideas and initiatives as they evolved, and the outcome of much of that feedback appears to be reflected in the request for proposals that has been released. I am hopeful that the same level of communication will continue as this initiative develops.” 

Selkirk College provides a variety of campus supports including culturally-responsive counselling, health and wellness initiatives, and recreation programs as well as connections to Kootenay community events.

However, these types of services aren’t always accessible to students in need due to hours or lack of resources.

“We are lucky to have such an amazing team in our Student Access and Support Department,” Hernandez explains, “but unfortunately with minimal resources they can only do so much. Even something as simple as booking an appointment is compromised by lack or resource time for our Welcome center staff responsible for booking appointments.”

Many of these supports have been linked to a controversial student services fee that was introduced to universities and colleges across the province in 2016. At Selkirk, this fee increased student fees by $139 to $207 each academic year in addition to the 2% increase on tuition fees.

The service proposed by the Ministry is seeking to provide phone, online chat, text, and email supports as well as confidential virtual counselling sessions for students that would be available around the clock. A total of $1.5 million has already been approved for the first year of the 24/7 support resource, with further hopes of expanding the program to reach high school students in coming years.

A notice of planned procurement has been posted to BC Bid, advising of plans to develop a 24/7 mental health and substance-use counselling and referral service. A competitive process will be posted shortly.

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Students Demand Tuition Fee Freeze

At an upcoming meeting, the Selkirk College Board of Governors will be making a decision regarding a 2% increase to Canadian student tuition fees. Since 2001, decisions by this body have led to increases in tuition every year. As these fees have increased over the last sixteen years, they have far out-paced the consumer price index, cost of living adjustment, standard wage scales and the provincial minimum wage.

In the lead up to the pending vote, the Selkirk College Students’ Union has been organising students around the “Put Tuition on Ice” campaign that seeks to showcase the need for affordable education that begins with a tuition freeze. The campaign has garnered 1,100 signatures to date.

Students of Selkirk College state that access to education are imperative to their futures and the future of the BC economy.

“We need affordable education in this province if we are going to have strong economy in the future,” Samson Conner-Boyer, Director at-Large of the Students’ Union explains. “The province of BC, especially in rural areas like the Kootenays lacks doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, teachers you name it! It is no longer possible to get a good reliable job with just a high school diploma. What hope of a brighter future do poor families have if they can’t even afford community collage? This is why we are fighting for a tuition fee freeze because we want a brighter future for us and the province!”

Rebekkah Ankenmann of the Students’ Union states that the Board of Governors voting in favour of a tuition freeze “creates a meaningful statement that we believe that education should be accessible to all students regardless of their financial ability. Every big idea started with a small group of passionate people who wanted a change, and I believe that with our campaign we can make a statement that tuition fees and post secondary educational funding in British Columbia needs to be changed.”

Labour unions, including the Selkirk College Faculty Association, have also signed onto the campaign to freeze tuitions and support the local community.

President of the Selkirk Faculty Association Lui Marinelli states, “Selkirk College is critical to our region in providing education to young and old, to prepare those now ready to work, to those who need to change their work, and to those who just want to learn.  As tuitions increase, an education becomes less and less affordable and available.  The administration needs to do more to find alternative sources of income to offset cost of living increases.  The students have been burdened for far too long.”

The Board of Governors meeting is open to the public and will take place on Tuesday, January 22 at 5:30pm in the staff lounge at the Castlegar campus. Students will assemble at 4:30 in the campus Pit student gathering space to prepare placards and rally in advance of the meeting.

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Thousands Stand in Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders

Today marked an international day of action and solidarity with the Unist’ot’en Camp and Gidimt’en Checkpoint. Over 67 international events from Vancouver to London took place on January 8 with more scheduled for the rest of the week, including Seattle’s event on the January 11. 

Members of Unist’ot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu/Big Frog Clan) have been occupying the lands around the Morice (Wedzin Kwah) River since 2009 in opposition to various and ongoing proposals of bitumen and natural gas pipelines throughtheir unceded territory. Though the projects have received consent from elected members of the Wet’suwet’en Chief and Council, the voices of hereditary Chiefs who oppose these projects have continuously been ignored by the government and industry. Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals.

According to the Indian Act, elected Chiefs have jurisdiction only over reserve lands, thereby have no ability to grant permission for projects within the larger territory stewarded by hereditary Chiefs of the Nation. Furthermore, the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized that Aboriginal title still exists in places where Indigenous nations have never signed a treaty with the Crown. In fact, the court was talking about the land where this standoff between the Nation and RCMP is taking place.

Unist’ot’en members stand at a checkpoint in 2012.

Following approval of a Coastal GasLink pipeline project by the BC government in Novemeber 2018, members of the Nation stood before BC Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church to defend their sovereignty. The project aims to transport fracked gas through a 670-kilometer pipeline across their territories to refineries in Kitimat and ultimately to export markets in Asia. 

Unist’ot’en spokesperson, Freda Huson has stated, in regards to the ongoing occupation and defence of the land:

“I am here in my home, on my land. I am not a criminal for protecting my most critical infrastructure which is my berries, my medicine, my water, my right to teach future Unist’ot’en generations how to live in right relationship with the land. Without water, no human will survive and these projects like TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink threatens the water. We are the land, the land is us.”

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), in a press release in early December, spoke against the BC government approval of the project, calling for the rights of the Unist’ot’en people. 

“The Unist’ot’en camp is a non-violent gathering of Indigenous land defenders and members of the Unist’ot’en house group in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern BC. Under the authority of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, these land defenders are actively practicing their inherent Indigenous Title and Rights to protect the land and pursue their right to self-determination. 

A central tenant to the standards and rights affirmed within the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both Canada and BC have endorsed and committed to implement, is the right of Indigenous peoples to protect their lands and territories, to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with the lands and to own, use, develop and control those lands. Article 8 of the UN Declaration calls on States to provide effective mechanisms for prevention of any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands, territories or resources.”

On December 14, the Court ruled in favour of an injunction against the Unist’ot’en occupation that would allow workers to pass the constructed checkpoint over the Morice River held by the Nation. This injunction is allowed to be supported by RCMP should there be push back.

On January 6-7, RCMP began moving into the nearby towns of Smithers and Houston in preparation to enact the injunction. Following movement on the checkpoint on January 7, 14 people were arrested including Gitdumden spokesperson Molly Wickham. One elder was released and 13 land defenders and supporters will be appearing in court in Prince George today. The armed RCMP movement on the checkpoint has raised provincial, national, and international support and attention, with media from New York Times, Toronto Star, as well as independent videographers present.

Dogwood BC, who have a focus on power relations within the province stated in a facebook post on January 7:

“History will not look kindly on politicians who condone the use of force against local people on behalf of a multinational oil and gas consortium. I hope the response from British Columbians to these events give our leaders pause as they contemplate their next move.”

Following the RCMP enforcement of the injunction, UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Philip stated “We strongly condemn the RCMP’s use of intimidation, harassment, and ongoing threats of forceful intervention and removal of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders from Wet’suwet’en unceded territory. The RCMP’s actions are in direct contradiction to both governments’ stated commitments to true reconciliation, and to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is a global human rights standard. We demand that Canada and BC call on the RCMP and Coastal GasLink to respect the Unist’ot’en/ Giltseyu-Dark House on unceded lands. The provincial and federal governments must revoke the permits for this project until the standards of free, prior and informed consent are met.” 

The actions of industry, the BC Government, and the RCMP against the Unist’ot’en members and allies speak loudly to the difference between the language of reconciliation used by all levels of government and the actions required to make reconciliation happen. 

At the time of this publication, the Unist’ot’en Camp states it is on high alert for a similar violent invasion of their checkpoint while thousands around the world rally in solidarity. 

Tuition Waiver Program

Though the program continues to benefit former youth-in-care greater supports are needed to ensure student success

Since the announcement in 2017 that tuition for former youth in care would be waived at all 25 public post-secondary institutions of BC, many youth have become a part of our college and university communities. This was part of a government strategy to address inequality faced by youth in care through a more comprehensive program, building on an existing system that had been in place since 2008.

During the fall 2017 term, 229 students across the province received the funding. In early 2018, it was announced that beyond funding for the institutional fees, youth in the program would also receive assistance for rent, child and health care. 

For young people in foster care, the accomplishment of graduating from high school is only the beginning. Faced with an uncertain future without a solid family foundation, many former youth in care struggle once they are no longer in the provincial government system. Without this funding many former youth in care would not be able to access a post-secondary education, but it is not only funding that is needed.  

Selkirk College’s Healthy Campus Advisor Leslie Comrie states although the College is “able to provide good supports to these students, a comprehensive bridging program from secondary to post secondary would be so helpful as the expectations and culture of high school and college is quite different.” 

Rose Rollier-Spencer, a former youth-in-care and Selkirk student, explains this further, stating that “Selkirk College has helped me develop the skills of communication and confidence, but it’s still hard to communicate because I think that people are looking at me like I’m an idiot,” she says. “Selkirk College has made me realize my limits. I can push myself to a certain point, but I can’t push past that point. If I push myself past that point, I am useless to the college and myself.”

The five former youth-in-care that will be attending Selkirk during the coming January 2019 term will be supported by the Healthy Campus Advisor as well as the Financial Aid administrator and counselling staff.  

Comrie explains that “support occurs on many levels, from guidance through the complexities of applying to a program or course of studies, help with filling out applications and one on one counseling through difficult times. The Healthy Campus Advisor liaises with foster parents and MCFD staff to smooth the way to independence.” She goes on to state how a peer-to-peer mentoring program would greatly complement those supports offered by the institution.

Access to education is a key indicator of success for not just individuals, but also their communities.

Comrie articulates this, saying that “helping former youth in care successfully navigate post secondary education supports not only the student but also the communities in which they live. An educated and employed work force helps our province thrive.” 

With the government recognizing the benefits for addressing inequalities through education for former youth in care and calls from student groups and post-secondary institutions across the province, the upcoming BC Budget 2019 will hopefully address affordability for all students in BC facing increasing tuition fees and student debt.

BC Awaits Proportional Representation Results

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of Selkirk College Students’ Union, along with thousands of young voters, returns her referendum ballot at a local Service BC Location

| Chantelle Spicer |

With the deadline to submit all mail-in ballots on the proportional representation referendum having come and gone, British Columbians now wait to see how our democracy will proceed. As of December 7, Elections BC had received an estimated 1,356,000 returned ballots, or roughly 41% of registered voters with the highest returns coming from Vancouver Island. 

The No BC Proportional Representation Society faced criticism in its  campaign for inciting fear of neo-nazi and fringe party politics emerging in BC due to proportional representation, which led to an ad being temporarily pulled and edited.

Following the deadline, Bill Tieleman, Vote No spokesman, along with Andrew Wilkinson and many of the BC Liberals, have stated that returns under 50% of eligible voters should mean that the referendum be deemed illegitimate. 

Torrence Costa, campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, believes a lower return on the referendum is indicative of disenfranchisement with the current first-past-the-post system. 

Many municipal elections throughout the province receive far less than 40% voter turnout and remain binding and supported by their communities.

Ann Remnant of Fair Vote – Kootenays chapter states the protestations of Wilkinson and Tenneman regarding returns “have everything to do with trying to undermine the process and nothing to do with the actual turnout. Judging by their NO campaign, they will say anything to discredit the process, the turnout, the results.” 

For students like Kim Pham, Secretary of the Selkirk College Students’ Union, this as “a great opportunity for students to have their voice heard at the decision-making table. It means a more democratic and fairer government, especially for students which are usually considered or consider themselves a minority group.”

In her work advocating for proportional representation on campus, she observed that many students she interacted with assumed their votes mean nothing. She states “many students get excited knowing that with this new voting system, their vote would actually get counted. This referendum brings hope to many people, especially students.”

During the campaigning period, many rallies and town halls from both sides of the campaign took place throughout the Kootenay region to educate voters on the referendum and what it could mean for rural areas.

Remnant states proportional representation could mean the Kootenays would “be part of a regional group that can work together on issues which affect all of us. I see this as a positive, we are linked by roads, waterways, industry, tourism, and more.”

Once the results are finalized, Elections BC states they will be released to the Speaker of the B.C. Legislature and to the public via the Elections BC website, social media channels, and a news release. Elections BC spokeswoman Rebecca Penz said final turnout numbers will continue to be reported into early next week, with the hopes of releasing the results by Christmas. 

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FEATURE: Kootenay Studio Arts – Jewelry

Kootenay Studio Arts (KSA) at Selkirk College’s Victoria Street campus will be putting on it’s annual Year End Show and Sale on June 22nd and 23rd this year.