Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Point of Clarification about the Olympic bursary

When I suggested that there should be a $200 million BC Olympic bursary, I wasn't just suggesting (in the middle of a deep recession) that an additional $200 million in taxes be raised for my favourite spending priority. This was also an argument about spending existing funding more effectively. The number of $200 million corresponds to my rough calculation about what it would take to bring the BC's average student debt load down to the national average. The kind of support--tied demand-side subsidies to students--was based on my analysis of the relative strengths and weaknesses of vouchers, grants to universities and tuition freezes as alternative policy instruments.

What if $50 million could be found in other existing government outlays, including existing universities funding? And if another $50 million could be found from the federal government? That would only leave $100 million of additional spending to found out of rising resource revenues and plugged tax loopholes. If $200 million will close the access gap for the 100,000 neediest full-time studentsover four years, then a mere $25 million will close half the gap for a single year.

Any takers?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Site C is the Big Test for Environmental Assessment Office

Way back on November 30, 2006 , I worried that the three coal-fired power plants being planned by the government would be subjected to one of the weakest environmental assessment procedures in the country. Fortunately, those coal-powered plants were cancelled en route to a newer and greener image for Gordon Campbell. But now that the Site C Dam project is being resurrected, we must again ask: is this EA process up to the job?

BC’s Environmental Assessment Act was rewritten in 2002, replacing one of the country’s most progressive provincial EA laws with one of the weakest laws. Strong provisions that were eliminated included a purpose section emphasizing sustainability, requirements to examine cumulative effects, the need to detail alternatives, and innovative public participation requirements, including a mandatory role for First Nations. All of these functions are now being performed more ‘flexibly’ and ‘efficiently’ by a more ‘streamlined’ Environmental Assessment Office.

Perhaps the high profile of this project will help to ensure that the SiteC assessment will be conducted properly. But it will require vigilance and strong public pressure every step of the way.