BC has stepped up to fund 40 seats at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, making good on an initial investment last year with promises of permanent funding.
This is double the number of seats funded in the past, and welcome news to livestock producers.
“It’s been very difficult to access veterinary care in rural British Columbia, particularly in the north,” says Shuswap rancher and BC Cattlemen’s Association vice-president Werner Stump. “In Northern British Columbia, an animal practitioner would typically look after 7,700 head of livestock. That’s approximately double the provincial average. As an association, we don’t believe that’s sustainable and that’s why we’re incredibly happy to hear the announcement.”
The pledge, made March 23, represents a commitment of $21.8 million over three years that builds on an initial contribution of $10.7 million last year to fund the seats, lowering tuition for BC students enrolled in the WCVM’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at the University of Saskatchewan.
The funding means students will pay about $11,000 per year in tuition versus upwards of $69,000 in unsubsidized tuition costs.
The funding comes via StrongerBC’s Future Ready plan, and is intended to become permanent.
Veterinarians welcome the news as they’ve been under immense pressure the last few years due to the high demand and low supply of veterinarians and vet technicians.
“It’s one of the best things that the veterinarian association has heard in the last few years. … We’ve been working on this since 2018. And they finally agreed that that was a good thing to do,” says Vancouver veterinarian and Society of British Columbia Veterinarians representative Dr. Rob Ashburner.
A report in 2018 indicated an additional 200 veterinarians were needed over the following two years. While the new funding doesn’t fully meet the need, it will help alleviate the shortage.
However, Opposition opinion is mixed about the announcement.
“We’re obviously ecstatic by getting the answers that we’ve been pushing for, for years,” says Delta South MLA Ian Paton and agriculture critic for the BC Liberals. “[But] we’ve fought tooth and nail for probably four years now to get these all 40 seats subsidized by the province.”
Paton would like to see recent unsubsidized students given retroactive payments for their tuition and rebates for students who commit to working in large animal veterinary care in rural and remote BC.