Two NDP critics waiting in the wings for the spring provincial election showed up at Thompson Rivers University’s back-to-school burger bash Friday not seeking the free food as much as gathering free opinions.
Advanced education critic Michelle Mungall and skills training critic Gwen O’Mahony offered up promises of lower student-loan interest rates and handing out superhero stickers to get students’ attention.
Mungall said the current student-loan interest rate in B.C. is at 2.5 per cent above prime — the highest in Canada. She said provinces are free to set their own interest rates on student loans.
A couple of years ago, when she asked Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto how much B.C. is charged in interest on student loans, she was told one per cent less than prime.
The NDP hasn’t said how much it would charge on student loans yet, but Mungall said the party is promising to set up $100 million in non-repayable grants for students who demonstrate financial need.
“The key thing is for students to reduce their debt at the start,” she said.
“It’s not if, but how much, it should be reduced.”
O’Mahony said skilled labour is a growing need in B.C. She quoted a B.C. government labour market analysis that said in the next five to 10 years, 80 per cent of jobs will require post-secondary education.
A lack of skilled labour could hold back the economy, she said.
In B.C., between 34 and 37 per cent of apprenticeships are completed, compared with 70 per cent in Alberta. O’Mahony said that’s in part due to the fact Alberta provides counsellors to help apprentices out, while B.C. does not.
“They’re looking at solutions,” she said.
When it was pointed out to her that Alberta isn’t exactly NDP country and the apprenticeship success she was talking about was from a Conservative government, she said she’s looking to solve problems, not party politics.
“We can already see the skills shortage crisis will be central in the next election,” she said.