FOR the past two days, Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk has been telling British Columbians he doesn’t know what it will mean when changes to federal government funding for English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are implemented in the spring, said the NDP on Thursday.  But on Thursday morning the federal minister in charge revealed that the B.C. government is fully on board with the changes.

Virk needs to explain why he didn’t tell the public the B.C. Liberal government supports the federal government’s plan to take ESL funding from B.C. universities and colleges, said the NDP.

Here’s what Virk and federal Immigration Minister Chris Alexander have been saying about the changes:

Virk: “As a province we felt that the status quo and the way that we were delivering it was the best model.” – CBC radio, December 11.

Alexander: “We’ve actually done it with the agreement of the provincial government. I’ve been working very closely with Shirley Bond on this transition, she supports it, the premier supports it, the government endorses it.” – CBC radio, December 12

Virk needs to explain why he’s telling British Columbians one thing while the premier and the jobs minister are saying something else to the federal government, said the NDP.

Is the real reason the B.C. Liberals support dismantling the current ESL system because they plan to drop their commitment to offer free ESL courses to domestic students at B.C.’s colleges and universities, which they announced just last year?

“This investment will help Canadian citizens and Canadian-born residents whose first language is not English improve their English language skills in order to move on to higher levels of education, skills and trades training and employment.”- Naomi Yamamoto, former B.C. Liberal advanced education minister, April 5, in a news release promising tuition free ESL for domestic students.

NDP Advanced Education Critic David Eby said: “The B.C. Liberal government continues to demonstrate it can’t be trusted to stand up for the services that British Columbians rely on. Not only have they misled the public about their support for the federal plan to dismantle ESL programs at colleges and universities, they have failed to explain their plan to keep their promise to offer free ESL courses to domestic students.”

(Virk told a newspaper that the NDP was spreading misinformation, claiming that the province never endorsed the federal changes and adding: “It is very important that once the decision is made at the federal level … there is nothing we can do … and we have to collaborate with them to make sure it is as seamless as possible.”)