Premier Christy Clark was back in her Westside-Kelowna constituency on Wednesday to announce $2 million in funding for invasive mussel prevention.
And while unwanted zebra and quagga mussels have posed a threat to Interior lakes for years, another issue in the region is the seemingly inevitable closure of four public schools.
Premier Clark joined Radio West host Audrey McKinnon for an interview on these and other issues.
- School closures in Penticton, Osoyoos, Summerland trigger protests
- Campbell River school board closing 2 schools
- Silver Creek, Armstrong schools off the chopping block for now
What will Wednesday's announcement accomplish?
We need to keep invasive mussels out of our fresh waterways. It could be an economic disaster for us. We think it could have an impact of $43 million annually, so think about the impact it would have on hydro facilities, tourism, fisheries, and then think about the environmental impact. Once they come, we can't get rid of them, so we need to spend the money to prevent it.
You've represented Westside-Kelowna since your by-election close to three years ago. How much time are you able to spend in the riding?
I come up as often as I can, I bring my son as often as I can, but I'm not really in one place very often. I'm a little bit of a gypsy, but when I come, I try and spend as much time as I can. The most important thing is to be listening to my constituents and delivering on the things I said I was going to do, and I think I'm doing that.
Let's move on to a story that's dominated our show the last several weeks and months: school closures. How important do you feel small and rural schools are to B.C.?
It's going to be really disappointing to any parent who has to send their child to another school. The issue for a lot of school boards is what quality of education can they provide? Sometimes it's great quality, sometimes it's not so great. If you're thinking about schools getting so small that there are many multiple grades in one class, some schools are not even able to offer a full suite of academic programs that would allow students to go on to university, there are issues around quality in some small schools, not all small schools, some do struggle though.
The issue, though, in British Columbia, for smaller communities, is not a shortage of funding, but a shortage of students. What the province can do is try and grow the economy, attract more people to the province, and then we'll see our enrolment grow. And for the first time in decades, we are starting to see our enrolment grow because British Columbia's economy is growing much faster, double the national average. That is ultimately the solution to school closures: more kids.
Quesnel's school district outlined its budget crunch yesterday. It says that aside from less government money because of fewer students, it's also been forced to cut another $168,000 this year because of government-mandated administrative savings. Why is your government forcing those additional cuts that aren't directly tied to lower enrolment?
First of all, you can't look at school funding outside of enrolment. We fund school districts mostly based on how many students they have and the needs of those students. We're saying to schools, do what health care has done, do what hospitals have done: stop having all of your back office, your human resources, your accounting, let's not have 60 versions of that across the province. Let's take those administrative functions, do them cooperatively, better, integrate them. Health regions have done it, government has done it, it's time for schools to start finding those administrative savings as well. It's all taxpayers' money. I think if we can save money on administration, I think people would want us to do that.
With files from Radio West
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click on the audio labelled: What's the solution to school closures? Grow the economy, premier says