ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The British Columbia government announced Thursday it is permanently doubling the number of subsidized seats for people who want to train to become veterinarians and practise in the province.
Selina Robinson, minister of post-secondary education and future skills, said at a news conference that the government will provide $21.8 million over three years to subsidize more students from B.C. to attend the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan.
"Vets play a critical role in supporting animal health care in our agricultural sector for B.C. farmers and for B.C. ranchers, and of course for pet owners," Robinson said. "We recognize the need for veterinarians is growing."
B.C. has been funding 20 seats at the university, but Robinson said the new money will subsidize 40 students from the province to meet the growing demand for veterinarians, especially among farmers and ranchers in the Fraser Valley and Northern B.C.
The college has been training B.C.'s veterinarians for five decades, and she said the multi-year funding boost will give students "certainty," while addressing the need to train and retain vets in communities essential to B.C.'s food security.
Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis said the need in communities for animal doctors is clear and the government is taking action to both recruit and train more veterinarians.
Alexis said the province is also preparing a business plan for a new animal health centre in the Fraser Valley to address the increased need for veterinary care for cattle and other large animals.
"We know how crucial it is to have timely access to animal health and diagnostic services and we saw how this was impacted during the atmospheric river event which flooded the current plant and Animal Health Centre on the Sumas Prairie," Alexis said. "A new centre will provide enhanced services in a more secure setting that veterinarians and their clients can rely on."
Dr. Adrian Walton, owner of Dewdney Animal Hospital in Maple Ridge, said when he received an email about the funding he called his wife, who was away in Victoria.
He told the news conference that he had to stay behind while his family vacationed because he's the only veterinarian in what should be a four-vet practice.
Walton said the need for more veterinarians in the province is clear, especially in smaller communities such as Haida Gwaii and Prince George, where short staffing and few clinics have left pet owners dangerously underserved.
"I really want to thank the government for extending this funding to provide us with another 40 vets a year," he said. "I've told my wife we can probably plan a vacation in two years."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version wrongly attributed a remark about a new animal health centre in the Fraser Valley to Selina Robinson. In fact, the remark was made by Pam Alexis.