The consequences of the cutbacks that have taken place at the Lakes District campus of the College of New Caledonia (CNC) might extend even further than what had been previously announced.
The Village of Burns Lake has released an impact study prepared by Peak Solutions Consulting Inc. showing the far reaching consequences of the cuts.
The College of New Caledonia has made a series of cutbacks to address a deficit of $2.8 million in its 2015/16 operational budget.
The impact study projects loss of 70 direct jobs, a significant reduction in programming including a 75 per cent cut to enrolment, and a loss of $3.7 million in employment revenues within the community.
The Village of Burns Lake and the newly formed Lakes District post-secondary education committee (LDPSEC) have been lobbying college and government officials to find a means of reversing and mitigating the negative effects that have been predicted for the community. In fact, the study was already presented to premier Christy Clark and several cabinet ministers during the 2015 Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention held in Vancouver in September.
According to the study, employment at the Lakes District campus has declined from a regular administration, faculty and support staff complement of 92 in 2012/13 to 78 in 2013/14; and projections indicate that this number could be as low as 22 in 2016/17. It is at this 2016/17 level that employment at the campus is anticipated to stabilize and operate at moving forward.
Overall, the total employment loss will include 70 direct employees at the Lakes District campus and a further 18 indirect local jobs for a total local employment decline of 88 jobs. The study says the direct jobs are associated with the 650 individuals identified as part of the educational and public administration experienced labour force within the Burns Lake local health area. The communities in the local health area include Granisle, Topley Landing, Donald Landing, Decker Lake, Grassy Plans, Tintagle and Southbank. The area is also home to several First Nations including the Burns Lake Band, Lake Babine Nation, Cheslatta Carrier Nation, Nee Tahi Buhn Band, Skin Tyee Nation and Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
An even more dramatic projection is shown in the course and program registrations at the Lakes District campus. The trend in total registrations is clearly down, with more than 1000 fewer registration projected for 2016/17 compared to 2012/13.
In conjunction with the reduction in post-secondary education, these concerns compounded even further in the Aboriginal community, as First Nations students made up over 60 per cent of enrolment in the Lakes District campus.
Monty Palmantier, LDPSEC member, explained that the changes have not only reduced the capacity of local First Nations residents to gain training and employment opportunities, but they also threaten the once outstanding outcomes in Aboriginal success rates that have been directly attributed to local delivery of post-secondary programming in the Lakes District .
The study says these impacts are accompanied by increased “social risks” as a result of the CNC executive’s decision to cut the family social service programs (family programs) that have been offered through the local campus for decades.
A jointed press release from the Village of Burns Lake and LDPSEC says this decision jeopardizes the ministry of children and family development contracts that have benefited hundreds of families in the community – through early childhood intervention programs, FASD prevention, complex development and behavioural condition diagnosis, and a host of other initiatives.
“With these programs cut by CNC, the services could be fragmented, dismantling the incredibly valuable and award-winning ‘hub model’ of service that was created by local workers and refined for over 20 years,” says the press release.
The village and LDPSEC add that there is the potential that family programs could be removed from the community all together.
“These changes put the hundreds of local residents enrolled in the programs at risk.”
The LDPSEC is currently seeking ways to prevent the dissolution of the family programs which will expire in March of 2016.
“We want to preserve the hub model of service that the college has maintained for so long,” said LDPSEC member Bernice Magee. “At one time, the combined provision of post-secondary education, trades training, and family social services was recognized as one of the most successful models for rural service provision in the province.”
“The changes that have been made threaten this model after years and years of work on the part of our local campus employees to create better futures for our residents,” she added.
The LDPSEC now hopes that the services can be transitioned to another agency “as intact as possible.”
Last week Mayor Luke Strimbold, accompanied by LDPSEC members, met with Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Children and Family Development and John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, to discuss the future of family programs offered at the Lakes District campus.
“The meeting was to discuss the importance of maintaining the family end programs in our community and that these programs should continue to be delivered as a hub model.”
Strimbold said more information will be made available as they receive responses to their questions from the ministers.
In response to the study, the Village of Burns Lake and the LDPSEC have been seeking ministerial support for a complete reconfiguring of the rural post-secondary structure.
During the 2015 UBCM, Burns Lake council proposed the creation of a pilot regional community college to serve the Lakes and Nechako regions. The proposed college would offer post-secondary education, trades training, and family social services. In other words, it would be a rurally focussed community college.
According to village council, the proposed college would better meet the needs of rural communities, allowing for synergies between the services being offered. In addition, Mayor Luke Strimbold said the proposed regional college would utilize the strong partnerships with First Nations, industry and local government that are already in place.
“Existing data suggests this model will be a more efficient way for the ministries to address a variety of community needs at once, and to ensure that the incredible effort put forth in our local campuses will not be lost,” said Strimbold.
Council will continue negotiations with ministry staff regarding this proposal. Meanwhile the village and LDPSEC are expressing their concern over the lack of consultation and “complete disregard for community needs” that they say has characterized the decision making by the CNC executive over the past several years.
“Something has to change.” said Strimbold. “The current model of decision making is unacceptable, and it’s irresponsible on the part of the CNC board to put our community at such a risk.”
The LDPSEC is now planning a community meeting on Nov. 10 at the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce building at 5 p.m. Community members are invited to participate, express their viewpoints and learn more about what the LDPSEC and the village are doing to protect the local campus.