NORTHWEST Community College students and instructors received a taste of NDP electoral financial caution during an all candidates meeting held at the college’s Terrace campus April 10.
Robin Austin, the NDP candidate seeking re-election in Skeena in the provincial election, told students there isn’t enough money to do everything students may want his party to do if it’s elected May 14.
Austin was responding to questions asking about child care programs and transit costs.
Although Austin promoted a pledge by the NDP to create a $100 million pool for student grants by increasing the corporate tax rate, he said there can’t be a tuition fee freeze as well.
“That isn’t possible at this time,” said Austin of freezing tuition rates which rise at the rate of two per cent a year.
“The $100 million grant is our big spend in post secondary education at this time.”
But he said the overriding principle for education should be the opportunity for people, if they wish, to attend a post secondary institution.
Austin and BC Conservative candidate Mike Brousseau spoke to approximately 50 people during the session hosted by the college’s students’ union.
BC Liberal candidate Carol Leclerc was unable to attend because of work commitments but did provide a video message.
For his part, Brousseau said education has slipped in B.C., adding that only an improved economy can provide the money that’s needed.
And he laid out his five principles of elected office – community, economy, education, health care and integrity.
Brousseau did say that administration costs are eating into education and other areas such as health care.
“We have to look at how the money is being spent,” he said.
In response to a student question as to why students have to pay transit fares to ride buses, Brousseau said a student pass should be sufficient to allow a student to ride at no charge.
Brousseau, the father of 12 children, said he bought a bus himself to make sure they got to school.
Austin noted that bus passes are part of tuition payments at other post secondary institutions.
Another student said that a number of people attending the college are single parents who could use subsidized day care.
She added that some programs at the college provide more financial assistance to students than do others.
“I like your idea about the five things but if I had five things, one of them would be child care,” the student told Brousseau.
There was further discussion about subsidized child care with Austin telling the audience that a plan by Prime Minister Paul Martin for a national child care program was cancelled when his Liberal government was replaced by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
He also noted that the province by itself could not mount any kind of child care program which he described as very expensive.
“We can only be a partner that leverages off federal dollars,” said Austin.
Leclerc, in her video message, noted that $7 billion worth of development was already happening in the region with the potential for tens of billions of dollars to be spent on other projects.
The college has recently received provincial money to buy new trades training equipment, she said.