Vancouver School Board budget crisis highlights the “case of haves versus have-nots”

Last night’s Global News coverage of $18 million in impending cuts by the Vancouver School Board — likely to trigger layoffs, a shorter school year and school closures —  ended with this predictable declaration by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation spokesperson Maureen Bader: “taxpayers pockets are empty, they just can’t be picked anymore.”

Really?

A concerned parent who leads off the Global report still seems to have a little cash in his jeans.

Worried by the “issue of erosion of quality education,” he is considering moving his children to private school. After all, he says, “it’s always going to be a case of haves versus have-nots,” implying that the “haves”  take care of themselves, one way or the other.

In fact, there is some evidence that empty classrooms in east Vancouver are the result of better-off parents migrating west to better-off schools, where even wealthier parents have shifted their children to private schools, which also receive a significant chunk of public funding.

As Vision Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus makes clear, the problem facing VSB is Victoria’s determination to pile on more costs — all-day kindergarten, pre-school programs and rising labour costs — without providing sufficient resources. The new programs are positive, but they can’t be funded for free.

Bacchus is so angry at Education Minister Margaret McDiarmid’s refusal to acknowledge this reality that she’s suggested McDiarmid should resign.

It is McDiarmid’s government, after all, that has created two new taxes in the last two years — the carbon tax and the Harmonized Sales Tax — both of which are revenue neutral or worse, while adding new and costly burdens to school boards.

Nor is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation reflecting reality with its claims that taxes in this province are onerous or akin to theft.

As this recent KPMG report has demonstrated, Canada is one of the cheapest places in the world to invest and Vancouver one of the cheapest places in Canada. Among the strong points in Canada’s performance: “Canada ranks first in education attainment and high school science scores.” But for how long?

A Vancouver Sun editorial on the report hailed the news that Canada’s corporate tax rates were the lowest in the developed world, but sneered at Liberal Party economic policy makers who propose to end the Conservatives’ endless round of corporate tax cuts, comparing the Liberals to members of the NDP’s long-dead left nationalist Waffle faction.

But this Waffle contagion has spread to unexpected places. Another report last week found 60 percent of Canada’s CEOs favour tax increases to balance the books in the wake of the recession. Would they object if some of the cash found its way to public education, a pillar of our economic competitiveness?

BC’s “haves” have won the race to create the best investment climate in the world by a large margin. Will there be any share of the winnings for the “have nots?”