BC VIEWS: Premier Red Green’s fast fixes

Premier Christy Clark has pulled out the duct tape to fix up rural schools, school buses and the minimum wage

Comedian Steve Smith, better known as Red Green, is touring B.C. in September, reprising his popular TV series in which he fixes every conceivable problem with duct tape.

Green’s “I’m Not Old I’m Ripe” tour hits Chilliwack, Victoria, Nanaimo, Courtenay, Surrey, Vernon, Kelowna and Prince George.

His formula for deploying the handyman’s secret weapon has proven so popular that Premier Christy Clark may have been inspired. She’s had quite a flurry of hasty repairs in the last few months. Here’s a recap.

The B.C. minimum wage was starting to lag behind other provinces, even after the overhaul it received in 2015, where annual increases are tied to inflation.

Like Red’s truck tires, there has been a lack of inflation, and a surge of government spending back east leaving B.C. in the dust. B.C.’s wage rose 20 cents last year and was set to go up by another whole dime this fall.

There was that familiar ripping sound in May as Clark and Jobs Minister Shirley Bond announced the September increase will be patched up to 40 cents, with another 40-cent increase next fall. Two wraps should hold it until after the election.

Remember the episode where Red taped two old Hyundai Ponies side by side to make a handyman’s Hummer? The school system has seen that kind of work in recent months.

The first roll was applied by Education Minister Mike Bernier when he announced in March that the ministry’s “fix-it fund” was going from $35 million to $40 million. Then in mid-May, he announced 80 successful projects. The “fix-it fund” had fattened to $45 million, and Bernier was just getting his sleeves rolled up.

Hey school districts, remember the $25 million in “administrative savings” the ministry demanded for the second year in a row? Now that you’ve squeezed that from your budgets, Bernier’s good news at the end of May was that the government’s giving it back to use for “front line services for students.”

One of those services could be “maintaining schools despite falling enrolment in certain regions,” Bernier announced May 31, foreshadowing the next layer of repairs.

Sure enough, a “rural schools fund” was rolled out on June 15. Clark and Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes made the announcement in Quesnel, where Kersley and Parkland elementary schools were going to close.

Also eligible for a special fund was Okanagan-Similkameen, where Osoyoos high school students were going to be bused a half hour to Oliver. This is hardly unusual in rural schooling around B.C., but these are swing ridings, you see.

Kootenay Lake district declined the opportunity to keep Yahk elementary open, with an anticipated fall enrolment of zero students. This all comes during the annual ritual combat between the ministry and Vancouver school board over keeping half-empty schools open.

Bernier had one more roll in his overalls. School bus service, one of those things jettisoned or saddled with hundreds of dollars in fees per student as districts scraped up those “administrative savings,” was selectively saved with another $15 million fund announced last week.

There have been a few other country fixes. They’re not going to ban weddings on farms any more, for instance.

That old jalopy in the back yard you’ve been trying to soup up and get back on the road? Soon you can get a collector plate for that thing, which is perfect if you can only get it running once or twice a year.

To paraphrase Red, if the voters don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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