On Feb. 22, New Democrat advanced education critic Michelle Mungall toured VIU’s Nanaimo campus. Mungall sat down with the Nav. to candidly discuss the opposition’s take on issues concerning post secondary students ahead of the upcoming provincial election. She also shared her thoughts on the B.C. Liberals 2013 budget and addressed Adrian Dix’s proposed $100 million in needs-based student grants program.

Q: What was your reaction to the B.C. Liberals budget for 2013?

A: The statement they made with this budget was that they have no plans to invest in what is one of the most critical components in our economy, which to me is really upsetting, and it’s the wrong direction.

Q: How so?

A: Basically, the overall budget, while the liberals call it ‘balanced,’ is totally bogus. Here we are on Bill and Ted’s bogus journey and that budget is being propped up by increased tuition, which is cutting to the most important part of our economy right now, according to economists, which is post-secondary education, so that budget is not what British Columbians are looking for.

Q: Do you think that the division of spending could strategically reflect the low youth voter turnout in B.C.?

A: It’s true that young people do not come out to vote as much as older people and it’s true that your voice is communicated through your vote. Christy Clark’s government doesn’t see [youth issues] as a place, [and] that, especially in an election year, is going to keep them in a position of power. So why invest in that particular area?

Q: Why has the NDP chosen to focus on this particular issue?

A: Well, there’s a reason why we invest in that particular area that isn’t political and it’s about the well-being of our society. For example, 80 percent of jobs in the next few years will require some level of post-secondary training. B.C. will have a massive skilled labour shortage coming on line, it’s already happening in the north, and it’s going to be visible provincially in the next three years. Clark’s own government is projecting this with their figures and they’ve known this since 2010 at least. I’m certain that every single economist and every single business leader would say this is the biggest crisis B.C. has to face for its economical well-being. That’s why we need to invest in post-secondary education—it’s an economic issue.

Q: Can you tell me more about the proposed 100 million post-secondary grant plan that Adrian Dix and the NDP are proposing?

A: In 2004, the liberals cut the financial needs base grant program, a program which allowed for students who came from the lowest income brackets to receive a non-repayable loan so that they wouldn’t be forced into such exceptional debt. The NDP recognizes that this was an equalizing measure to allow for all prospective students to access post-secondary education rather than just the wealthy ones who can afford to pay up-front. Student debt has become a major issue in the province with an average of $27 thousand in B.C. and we currently have the highest amount of student dept west of the Maritimes. This is causing students to complete university, college, and their trades training programs with such a debt-load that they can’t go and do the other things we need them to do in an economy such as buying houses, cars, and making investments. This is why you don’t see people buying homes in their twenties anymore.

Q: Where will the funding come from for the proposed plan?

A: As I told John Yap, the Minister of Advanced Education, yesterday in the legislature when he asked me what the NDP’s plan is, assuming that we didn’t have one, in 2008 the large banks said that they wanted the corporate capital gains tax to be limited down to zero so that they could create more jobs. However, since 2008 those companies have cut jobs, so they didn’t honour their end of the social contract, so we’re going to bring that tax back at that 2008 level, which is still a very small level, which keeps us competitive among everybody else in North America, and we’re going to take that money, which will generate about $150 million on average, so we know that we can anticipate a good 100 million coming from that year to two years. And we’re gonna put that into financial needs base grants.