Veterinarians are the latest to complain about a shortage of skilled workers in agriculture.
BC faces the worst shortage of veterinarians in Canada, according to a 2019 labour market study by the Society of BC Veterinarians. The gap is approximately 100 vets a year, affecting both small and large animal care and limiting the support available to small-lot growers, many of them newcomers to animal care.
“The shortage of BC veterinarians has and will continue to have a significant negative effect on public health as BC veterinarians play a substantial role in public health, antimicrobial stewardship, and zoonotic disease surveillance,” states a letter the society sent to MLAs last week.
The society wants the province to allocate funding for an additional 20 seats at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, a demand it has made since 2018. Despite support from the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, the request has not been met by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education. The ministry has told the society funding for vets is not a priority.
This meant that 20 available seats freed up when Alberta relinquished its allocation were opened up to applicants from across Canada. But even then, 15 of the successful applicants were from BC. They paid $67,000 a year each, versus $11,000 for students funded by the province.
“It is also of note that BC had more than 145 qualified applicants for its 20 BC seats,” the society notes. “There was no shortage of qualified applicants and BC would have no problem filling 40 BC seats.”
Society president Dr. Al Longair of Duncan doesn’t understand why veterinary education – and ultimately, care – isn’t a higher priority for the province.
“We hear every week from veterinarians who are incredibly overworked, from animal owners whose animals are lacking access to basic care due to the shortage, and from animal welfare groups whose own abilities to save animals are dependent on their ability to seek veterinary help,” he says. “Since the need is so great, and since we have so many qualified applicants, we’ve been asking the Minister of Advanced Education to increase the number of BC students trained to 40 each year. We are bewildered that she keeps saying no.”