Michelle Mungall

Michelle Mungall

Okanagan College funds focus for critic

B.C. must invest more in post-secondary education if it’s to prepare for the future.

B.C. must invest more in post-secondary education if it’s to prepare for the future.

That was the message from Michelle Mungall, NDP advanced education critic, during a stop at Vernon’s Okanagan College campus Friday.

“We are looking at a  skilled labour shortage and the only way to address it is post-secondary education,” said Mungall, MLA for Nelson-Creston.

“Where this will be most keenly felt is the trades. Most economists say we need to increase funding for post-secondary education.”

Mungall blasted the new Liberal budget, which she says will cut $46 million to colleges and universities over three years.

She says the reductions come despite lobbying from institutions such as Okanagan College.

“The people on the ground working with students are completely ignored by this government,” she said.

But Mungall is reluctant to say how an NDP government would invest in post-secondary education until the province’s overall financial figures can be crunched.

“It’s premature to go into what the platform will be.”

But, according to Mungall, the NDP would hike  support for the financial needs program by raising the corporate capital tax from zero to two or three per cent.

Mungall says the Liberals reduced the corporate capital tax to try and foster employment, but that hasn’t happened and there is a need for that money to assist students.

“The banking sector is one that most needs an educated workforce.”

While at the college, Mungall learned about the Vernon Students Association’s food bank, which provides help to students who are cash-strapped.

“Some of the stories are heart-breaking,” said Eric Reist, association general manager.

Reist added that many students are trying to juggle school with work and, in some cases, raising families.

“The stress levels are increasing.”

With tuition increasing in recent years, Reist says he doesn’t blame Okanagan College because it is facing financial pressure.

“We need greater levels of (government) funding for post-secondary education,” he said.

“The government says it’s about investing in the future but they are cutting post-secondary education. How do you reconcile these two things?”

Another issue that was discussed was how to get more young adults voting, particularly in this May’s provincial election.

“There’s a lack of understanding and feeling in the process,” said Mungall.

Mungall would like to see the election rules changed so 16 and 17-year-olds can go through a provisional voter registration.

“Once they are 18, they are already on the voters’ list and Elections B.C. starts reaching out to them automatically,” she said.