Is Vancouver Community College facing death by a thousand cuts?

As school resumed this month across British Columbia, many commentators made note of the one-year anniversary of the B.C. government’s dispute with teachers. The situation isn’t as hot as last year, but educators at all levels remain in an antagonistic relationship with the B.C. Liberals and Premier Christy Clark.

If you take transit in the city, you’ve probably noticed the clever bus shelter ads for Vancouver Community College this month. Their slogan, “We built this city,” is perfect, evoking memories of the classic song while referring to the tens of thousands of graduates of the educational institution who now work in the myriad vocations that are foundational to any city.

The ads of VCC were timed to mark its 50th anniversary, but they weren’t just a splurge for the celebration. They were also about raising awareness of a threatened civic institution, coinciding with the launch of the “Save Our VCC” campaign, which draws attention to the cuts and other threats they are facing.

The new campaign website,, warns: “Government decisions are destroying opportunities for young people to create better futures for themselves & their families. VCC is an important part of our community – this scheme will hurt students and make Vancouver even less affordable.”

Infographic from the Save Our VCC campaign.

Infographic from the Save Our VCC campaign.

The immediate alarm stems from layoff warning notices received by 52 staff members and a $3.5 million, or 8.5 per cent, cut to VCC’s core funding. But the Save our VCC campaign says the threat is bigger, and that the school is facing an uncertain future primarily due to the provincial government policies. These include: the loss of 70 per cent of their seats for English Second Language students, in part due to provincial government cuts to adult education; the threat of transfer of a number of VCC programs to other institutions like the B.C. Institute of Technology; and, perhaps most ominous of all, the fact that all “non-core” programs at VCC are now under review and facing possible cancellation.

Local activist Pete Fry calls all of this the threat of “death by a thousand cuts.” In an op-ed piece in the Georgia Straight, he connects the fate of VCC with the B.C. government’s attitude toward public education in general:

“It’s no secret that under our current provincial government, public education is under attack. Nowhere is that more apparent than here in East Van – where provincial ministry enrollment demands threaten to close primary and secondary schools, and a strangled budget has already led to clawbacks and closures of VSB adult education and ESL programs.”

Fry locates the cuts to VCC to the broader East Vancouver community. And when you consider the current dynamics of the Downtown Eastside, it’s even easier to understand the anxiety of VCC students and staff.

The downtown campus of VCC is an old building on a big lot between Pender and Dunsmuir, just across from Victory Square in the shadow of the new Woodwards towers. This is the epicentre of the gentrification and redevelopment. It’s also just down the street from the old Canada Post headquarters, a massive site that has been sold and is slated for redevelopment. In our condo crazed city, it’s not hard to imagine the VCC campus won’t be at its present location forever.

So Vancouver Community College marks its 50th birthday at a crossroads. The responsible thing for government to do would be to stop the cuts and reaffirm its long-term commitment to this vital institution.

Because cities aren’t build on rock and roll, and they’re not built by condo salespeople and politicians. They’re built by the skilled tradespeople and professionals who have graduated from VCC over the past half century. Here’s to a long life for VCC.