Key public services in BC threatened by call for further cuts

New CCPA report shows BC's public sector already downsized, further cuts costly to British Columbians
March 22, 2000

(Vancouver) A new report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives--BC Office says the services British Columbians depend on are seriously threatened by calls for further public sector downsizing.

The report, Are Spending Cuts and Privatization the Answer for BC?, shows that the spending cuts and privatization measures called for by business lobby groups would, if implemented, lead to poorer quality services, loss of jobs and money from BC's communities, increased user fees, and likely, increased costs to government.

Author Donna Vogel, a researcher with the CCPA-BC, points out that BC's public sector has already been downsized. "The massive public sector cuts and privatization initiatives implemented by today's Klein and Harris governments already occurred in BC in the 1980s under the Social Credit government's 'restraint" program'," says Vogel. "BC has not been spared cutbacks. We led the way."

BC's public sector employment rate (measured as the number of public employees per 1000 population) is the second lowest in Canada after Ontario, and is below the national average in all areas except education.

Further cuts in public sector spending would mean lower quality services delivered by a public service that has already faced declines in provincial spending throughout the 1990s. Real provincial per capita spending fell by $544 between 1991 and 1998, and recent spending increases in health and education have not kept pace with inflation and population growth.

"Those who claim cuts are a painless process of 'trimming the fat' are misleading the public," says Vogel. "If the government follows the demands of business groups in this budget, and cuts funding to public services, it will mean job losses in the public and private sectors, lower quality services for all British Columbians, reduced access to needed services, and higher out-of-pocket expenses for families."

Vogel rejects privatization as a way to save taxpayer dollars. The report, which surveys privatization initiatives in other jurisdictions, finds numerous problems with contracting out services to private companies. "Many contracts do not save money," says Vogel, "and those that manage to cut costs often do so by eliminating jobs, paying workers less, and cutting corners on quality and health and environmental standards." Evidence from other jurisdictions also shows that privatizing crown corporations removes important areas of the economy from public control and accountability, while delivering benefits to only a small number of shareholders.

"If British Columbia continues down a road marked by budget cuts and privatization, the families and communities of this province can expect to find themselves with more poverty and inequality, less access to needed goods and services, and less say in the decisions that affect their lives," says Vogel.