The provincial government is being urged to stimulate the economy by investing in students.
NDP leader Adrian Dix visited Vernon’s Okanagan College Friday to call for the reinstatement of needs-based grants for post-secondary students in B.C.
“We are going to see a significant shortage of skilled workers. A lot of that is about skills training,” said Dix.
“When I talk to forest companies, they say the principle concern is their workforce. Everything from biologists to millwrights is required.”
Non-repayable grants were eliminated in 2005, and Dix says that has put pressure on low and middle-income families wanting to send their children to school, as well as workers needing to upgrade skills.
“I am hearing that it’s harder and harder to afford to go to school,” he said, adding that the average student debt is $27,000.
“We are seeing the highest interest rates for loans and they have doubled tuition fees. We want to make a real difference in the lives of students.”
The NDP wants $100 million spent on non-repayable grants and it’s suggesting the money come from a tax on banks.
“We had a minimum tax on financial institutions from the 1970s to 2008 when it was eliminated,” said Dix.
Dix isn’t sure if Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals will endorse the NDP’s recommendation for needs-based grants.
“Part of our task is to bring change. People can’t wait until 2013 and the next election,” he said.
While in Vernon, Dix also expressed concerns about insufficient funding for legal aid.
“The solution is to address family law where they (government) took away legal aid from most people,” he said.
On Wednesday, Vernon lawyers joined counterparts across B.C. and wore blue ribbons to raise awareness about legal aid funding cuts.
Dix is also demanding action to ease overcrowding at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
“The longer they fail to act, the more health care in the North Okanagan will continue to suffer,” he said of the need for more acute care beds.
Vernon-Monashee MLA Eric Foster raised the issue of beds with Health Minister Michael de Jong Friday.
“We need to pour pressure on and if Mr. Foster is prepared to join our efforts, that is good news,” said Dix.