Colleges, BCIT face strike action

VANCOUVER – Support staff could set up picket lines at three B.C. colleges and the B.C. Institute of Technology as early as Monday.The B.C. Government and Service Employees Union has served 72-hour strike notice at Kwantlen University College, Douglas College and the B.C. Institute of Technology in the Lower Mainland .It’s also served strike notice at Northern Lights University College which has eight campuses across northern B.C.BCGEU president George Heyman blames the looming job action on the Campbell’s government’s policy of freezing wages for three years.”These workers, as I said, have had absolutely nothing in five of the last seven years, and only 4.4 per cent in the other two,” he says.”That just simply isn’t acceptable. It’s unfair, it’s inequitable, and they need to make up some ground. They need to be able to support their families. They need some respect.”The BCGEU is asking for pay raise of seven per cent in a new four-year agreement plus improvements to benefits.

Heyman says the more than 1,500 workers are predominantly female, who he says are the backbone of the post-secondary education system.Their last collective agreement expired two-and-a-half years ago.

Transit cops ready to go

VANCOUVER – Transit police could take over patrolling SkyTrain platforms across the Lower Mainland by the end of the month.TransLink currently has security officers on duty, but they haven’t had the legal authority of being police officers.

TransLink has delayed the deployment of the the new force until Solicitor General Rich Coleman decides whether the officers can carry guns.Troy Henyecz has been part of the security team with TransLink for eight years. He says he’s tired of being called a “rent-a-cop” and says the change in status will help deal with difficult people.”The person looks at us as not being the police, and because their mind set is they’re not going to co-operate, that’s where the physical altercation comes in,” he says.

Former RCMP officer Bob Kind will be the chief of the new unit. He says the idea for transit police came out of necessity.”Sometimes some of our staff have called for police, and at times it’s been long wait periods, where you’ve either arrested somebody for transporting and you need their assistance.”Kind says most of TransLink’s special constables are former police officers and already have the training required.Once the new force is in place, Kind plans to ask the province for more authority for fare inspectors so they too can make arrests.

Ceiling raised for homeowner grants

VICTORIA – The provincial government is raising the eligibility threshold for homeowner grants by $100,000 because of the big increase in B.C. property values in the past year.The value of residential properties across the province including new construction increased by 20 per cent last year.

The government says it will introduce legislation next month to increase the threshold for the grants to $685,000 from the current $585,000.Finance Minister Colin Hansen says about 21,000 homeowners whose grants would have been reduced will now continue to collect the full amount.”Just because property values are going up we feel that government’s contribution to homeowner grants should remain constant going forward,” he says.The minister says the higher ceiling means that more than 95 per cent of British Columbia homeowners will continue to receive grants to help pay their property tax bills.

The president-elect of the Victoria Real Estate Board says this is good news for seniors in particular.”There’s a lot of people with a lot of equity in homes that they bought many many years ago who stayed in Victoria,” says Scott Kendrew. The 2005 property tax assessments are in the mail this week.

Outpouring of support for tsunami victims

VANCOUVER – Many people spent the first few days of 2005 focused on the victims of the tsunamis in south Asia.

  • CLIP: The Early Edition’s Stephen Quinn gets an update from George Chandler of the Canadian Red Cross (runs 4:57) 

More than 150 people gathered at the Vancouver Art Gallery for a candlelight vigil Sunday.While the majority of the crowd was from the Sri Lankan community, members of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim communities were also there. They came to pray and sing in memory of those who died in the tsunami disaster.

CLIP: Behind the scenes at the Radio India studios (runs 1:59) Priyantha Rathnayake is the head of the Sri Lankan group that organized the ceremony. He was there to grieve, but delivered another message as well.”There have been so [many] expressions of sympathy, concern and offers of help from people in Canada and all over the world. We want to say thank you to all of those people. We need your help and thank you for the help we got.”The disaster assistance has come from many different communities.In Surrey, Radio India ran an all-day marathon to help raise funds for the relief effort. Surrey MLA Dave Hayer helped to organize the event. He says the response has been unbelievable.”I feel so proud, not just the Indo-Canadian community but the whole community people from different walks of life, different religions.”

Radio India had expected to raise about $200,000. But by Monday morning, the donations added up to well over $410,000.

2004 year in review

VANCOUVER – The year began with the shooting death of a good Samaritan outside a Gastown nightclub. And that was followed by the death of world-renowned artist Tony Onley in a plane crash. Then there was the Bertuzzi incident, a story that went on for the rest of the year. Avian flu hit the Fraser Valley. And a strike by hospital workers nearly triggered a province-wide shutdown of other services, including schools and transit. Decisions about ferries and slot machines provoked controversy, Vancouver voters rejected a ward system and the RAV line got the green light. Two leading members of the B.C. Liberal cabinet Gary Collins and Christy Clark both stepped down as the province heads toward a general election in May. The year drew to a close with B.C. residents opening their hearts and pocketbooks to help those devastated by the tsunamis in Asia.

Watch who you donate to: BBB

The Better Business Bureau and the B.C. Crime Prevention Association are warning people to choose wisely when donating to disaster victims in Southeast Asia.

The Bureau’s president, Sheila Charneski, says people get caught up in the desire to give, and don’t ask enough questions.She says money jars and ad hoc groups may not be the best way to target your dollars.”You may not have any way of tracking them, because it may be a short-lived fundraising group,” she warns. “And so you won’t be sure where your money went [or] if it actually went to the cause.”She recommends that people donate to one of the larger international organizations.