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BC Premier Christy Clark in Victoria, Tuesday March 27, 2012. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe and Mail)
BC Premier Christy Clark in Victoria, Tuesday March 27, 2012. (Chad Hipolito For The Globe and Mail)

Education

B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s about-face on science learning Add to ...

It wasn’t that long ago that B.C. Premier Christy Clark seemed to be science’s biggest advocate.

At a splashy media event held at Science World to unveil new renovations last November, Ms. Clark talked about how important the facility was to growing interest in the subject among young people. The Premier mentioned how her own son, Hamish, had visited the attraction dozens of times himself, spurring an interest in science-related career possibilities.

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She was joined at the gathering by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who told those present that there were few things more deserving of a government’s support than programs promoting science learning.

Ms. Clark pointed out that over the next 10 years, one in eight job openings will be in a science-related occupation. She said there was no greater investment a government could make in its economy than ensuring that children had the skills they needed to build something better in the future.

“In order to maintain our competitive edge,” the Premier said at the time, “it’s important we support Science World and their programs that foster the pursuit of science in our children and throughout the community, so we have the bright young people to fill those jobs when they become available.”

It was one of those moments that could only be applauded. But as we learned this week, they were empty words.

Science World announced on Thursday that it will no longer be able to run its popular program promoting science learning throughout the province because the government has cut its funding. The financial hit to the government’s $44-billion budget was going to be just over $1-million – which is less than the amount of bonuses paid out to four BC Ferry executives last year.

This decision, I must say, staggers me in light of all the attention that has been paid in recent years to the important role science will play in a knowledge-based economy. Careers in science and technology are predicted to have the largest growth rate among all others over the next five to 10 years.

Smart nations, smart provinces, are doing everything possible to support learning in this area. Science isn’t for everyone. But you have a much better chance of encouraging interest in the subject if you can hook kids on it at an early age. That is an incontrovertible fact. And that is one of the enormous benefits of a facility like Science World, which is visited by thousands of schoolchildren every year.

But not all kids in B.C. get to enjoy its wonders. There are boys and girls in small towns and cities around the province who never get a chance to step inside its walls. That is why the B.C. Program for the Awareness and Learning of Science is so important. It takes Science World on the road, to some of the more out-of-the-way towns in the province, including first nations communities such as Old Massett and Waglisla and Bella Coola. In the last three years alone, Science World trucks rolled into about 45 first nations villages, giving the kids there a chance to enjoy something they wouldn’t have otherwise.

And why shouldn’t kids outside of Metro Vancouver get access to this kind of experience? Why should Science World and its programs only be for children who live in Metro Vancouver?

The program also included networking events, which allowed high-school students to learn more about careers in science, technology, engineering and math. It helped support free field trips to Science World’s centre of operations in Vancouver for kids in kindergarten through Grade 7.

Come September, that will all be gone.

It was sadly ironic that news of the funding cut came on the same day that the Premier’s office was announcing a new press secretary, who would be replacing one recently brought in from Ottawa who will nonetheless remain on staff. By my count, Ms. Clark has a half dozen people in her office playing communication roles of one sort or another, most pulling in more than $100,000 a year.

Heaven forbid the Premier slash the budget for her burgeoning PR team. It’s far easier to cut money for a program that takes science out into farflung communities that are easy to ignore.

Not that long ago, Ms. Clark seemed like science’s biggest booster, a politician ready to champion an area that desperately needs championing. Now, it seems, that grand experiment is over.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

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