NDP questions school upgrade cancellations

NDP leader John Horgan, Education Minister Mike Bernier clash over seismic upgrades cancelled in Victoria and Metro Vancouver

School building upgrades are shaping up as a battleground for next year’s B.C. election, with the B.C. Liberal government rolling out repair projects under its expanded “fix-it” fund, and the NDP questioning if politics caused the cancellation of two seismic upgrade projects.

NDP leader John Horgan released freedom of information documents Wednesday related to the cancellation of seismic upgrades at Shoreline Middle School in Greater Victoria and Minnekhada Middle School in Port Coquitlam.

The schools had been slated for upgrades, but projects were cancelled due to low capacity, with Shoreline projected to be 65 per cent full over the next five years.

Horgan pointed to recent announcements that rural schools in the Okanagan and Cariboo were being spared from closure, but two high-risk schools in bedrock NDP constituencies were not going ahead.

“Why is it that the government had money to sprinkle on their problems in Quesnel, sprinkle on their problems in Osoyoos, to sprinkle on their problems in Penticton, but they don’t have the money to protect children in Port Coquitlam and in Greater Victoria?” Horgan said.

Education Minister Mike Bernier issued a statement rejecting Horgan’s criticism. The Victoria school district has four other schools that are higher priorities for upgrades than Shoreline, and the ministry and the Port Coquitlam district are working on final approval for Minnekhada, he said.

“The opposition leader must have missed the two brand-new schools in his own riding or the fact that that largest seismic project in B.C. is the $106 million replacement of New Westminster Secondary,” Bernier said.

Premier Christy Clark announced seismic upgrades to 45 schools, including Minnekhada and Shoreline, a month before the 2013 election.

On Wednesday, the education ministry announced new non-seismic repairs to schools around the province, mostly plumbing, heating and roof repairs. The announcement has a heavy emphasis on Vancouver, where Bernier has fired the board and put a hold on school closures despite lower occupancy rates than any other B.C. school district.