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October 10, 2011

Budget Consultation

While BC’s legislature is adjourned for a week, after sitting just four days, the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services is hard at work with hearings in Surrey, Chilliwack, Cranbrook, Kelowna and Richmond. The Budget Transparency and Accountability Act requires the Minister of Finance to produce a budget consultation paper that must be referred to the Committee which must conduct consultations as it considers appropriate and make public a report on the results of those consultations by November 15.

The hearings held by the Committee are the closest most people can get to making a presentation to the legislature, unlike municipal councils where citizens routinely appear. Many organizations take advantage of the opportunity to get their position on the legislative record. Both text and video recordings of the Committee’s meetings are available on the legislative website.

Last year 223 organizations and individuals made presentations before the Committee. There were an additional 373 written submissions and 698 online survey forms were completed. The Committee has a veritable mountain of material to consider when it writes its report.

Does all of that effort have any effect on the budget? Last year's report made 59 recommendations. It would be interesting to get a progress report on recommendation 2: "Seek to identify and resolve with the BCMA any significant inequities in the fee schedule, in advance of compensation negotiations." Internal politics between some specialists and other practitioners makes that a hard nut to crack. It is one of many issues that complicate fee negotiations with the BCMA.

Recommendation 25 was: "Facilitate a seamless transfer of services for youth with special needs transitioning into adulthood, and ensure sufficient resources are available to provide supports for adults with developmental disabilities and their families." The opposition focused much of question period in the first week of this legislative session on the government's failure to provide transition planning and assistance. In question period on October 6, in response to a question from Maureen Karagianis, Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux, new to the portfolio as of September 26, said: "I am not surprised that the transition from the child care system to the adult system is a challenging time for families. Change is difficult, and things do change. But we are committed to working with the families. We are committed to having ongoing discussions about how best to manage these challenges, and I recommit to that today." For years advocates for clients of Community Living have argued that the government is putting reducing costs ahead of the needs of some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens. Cadieux should be aware of that from the briefing notes she would have received when she assumed her new job.

Recommendation 28 was: "Make funding of the arts a high priority in the 2011/12 budget by returning to overall actual funding levels of 2008/09 to encourage an independent and creative cultural sector." The government's response was to set up another consultation process on gaming grants and arts funding. At the same time the government found almost $600 million for a new BC Place Stadium roof and renovation, it eliminated funding to arts organizations that serve adults.

Other recommendations could be used as examples but the point is clear. Committee reports are tabled in the legislature and that's the end of them; they are advice to government which may or may not be followed. Nevertheless, in 2010, almost 1,400 people and organizations believed that the process is sufficiently important that they took the time to make a submission. Both sides of the legislature can use the consultation process to stay in touch with presenters and reflect their concerns in the course of legislative debate.

Effective lobbying for change has to involve winning enough public support to make both sides of the legislature want to adopt a proposal. You have to wonder why issues like facilitating a seamless transfer of services for youth with special needs can’t capture enough public support to move the government to action. It obviously takes more than support from a legislative committee.