B.C. NDP leadership forum in Surrey tackles education
The B.C. New Democratic Party leadership hopefuls visited Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus for an education-themed all-candidates meeting today (March 20).
All five contenders participated in the event, which was the first of nine party-sponsored leadership forums planned across the province in coming weeks.
The race to select a replacement for former NDP leader Carole James has entered its final month with a party vote set for April 17.
Today’s leadership panel drew around 200 people to the Surrey university campus to hear the candidates tackle questions about public education at all levels in B.C.
Vancouver-Kingsway MLA Adrian Dix said it was important to hold the education-focused event in Surrey.
“As all of you know who are from Surrey 8,000 students are going to be learning in portables next year in Surrey because we have a government that doesn’t care about public education and didn’t plan for the people in this community and the people around British Columbia,” he said.
Dix emphasized the need for a new funding formula for elementary-level and secondary-level public schools.
“People are aching for public investment in education in B.C. and we will deliver it,” he said.
On postsecondary education, Port Coquitlam MLA Mike Farnworth said any provincial spending is an investment in the future success of B.C.
“Postsecondary education isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. It’s vital to the social and economic future of the province of British Columbia,” he said.
Farnworth has proposed reducing student loan interest rates and restoring a provincial grant program.
He attacked the record on education of Premier Christy Clark, who has previously served in the B.C. Liberal cabinet.
“The legacy of Christy Clark as education minister is a dysfunctional education system,” Farnworth said.
“If she gets to be premier that will be our future and we don’t want that. That’s why it’s crucial we win the next election,” he added.
Juan de Fuca MLA John Horgan acknowledged worry about the affordability of postsecondary education, but indicated he is also concerned about the financial situation of educators.
“Are they being adequately compensated relative to other jurisdictions? It’s same in the K-12 sector. Are our educators being adequately compensated for the good work they do building for the next generations?”
“I don’t believe that’s happening,” Horgan said.
Also on postsecondary education, former B.C. Marijuana Party leader Dana Larsen highlighted the expensive prices many college and university students pay for textbooks.
“As premier I would try to work towards an open-source textbook system,” he said. “This has been done successfully in California and Florida and other American states and it drastically reduces the cost of textbooks both for the taxpayers and for the students. I think this is a key issue for many people.”
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said postsecondary tuition fees are too high.
“That’s the beginning and the end of that problem,” he said. “And what we need to do is restore funding from government to universities to the level that they were a decade ago.”
“Right now students are paying approximately 35 percent of the cost of their education whereas in 1991 they were paying approximately 15 percent,” he added.
Simons also suggested that public school teachers need more support.
“We have to guard against the attack on unionized workers in this province,” he said. “That is a trend that is sneaking into our society and we need to be forcefully standing against it.”
“The kids will be protected when teachers have a say in the quality of education that they can provide.”
The next NDP leadership forum in the nine-stop tour is in Kelowna March 21.