It’s impossible to spend much time on the doorsteps of New Westminster and not feel the incredible hunger for change in our community and in our province—change in the way we do government, the way we plan for our future, the way we treat one another.
I hear it all the time. People have clear concerns. They want practical, sustainable, affordable solutions—on everything from health care and seniors to education and the environment.
Postsecondary education is just one critical area where the B.C. NDP plans practical change for the better.
In New West, when I speak to students at Douglas College, I can feel the excitement when they talk about studying, training, or upgrading old skills for new challenges, and it’s tough not to be excited right along with them. It’s also tough not to sympathize with the stress and fear they face as they slide deeper into debt scrambling to cover the cost of tuition, books, and expenses.
The stories are all too common. They work hard through high school, get accepted at college, university or trade school, and save what they can from summer jobs. One student talked about scraping together $600 in savings—only to realize it was exactly enough for the fees and books for just one of her courses.
That means students head into the world of student loans and increasing debt. If they’re lucky, their parents help shoulder the burden of borrowing, sliding deeper into consumer debt themselves.
In B.C., the average student graduates from a four-year program about $27,000 in debt. After 10 years of making payments, they’ve spent an extra $8,000 on interest.
That’s the largest debt load in Canada west of the Maritimes. B.C. charges the highest provincial interest rates on student loans in the country, and is one of only two provinces without a non-repayable student grant program.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix has committed to bringing in a $100-million needs-based, non-repayable student grant program as a way to equalize opportunities to access advanced education. And he has spelled out how it would be paid for: by reinstituting a tax on banks.
We recognize that up to 80 percent of new jobs created over the next decade will require some form of advanced education or skills training. That’s why voters in New West want to have a government that’s committed to expanding educational opportunities to give our young people the skills needed to fill the jobs of tomorrow.
We intend to bring the same measured approach to health care, where the stories are heartbreaking: the difficulty in finding a family doctor or good care for a senior family member, or getting the home care that would keep a loved one out of a hospital or care home. I am very excited that the NDP is committed to a local food-procurement policy for hospitals, for example. The Fraser Valley has some of the best agricultural land in B.C. It is also home to the province’s largest health authority serving a patient population of 1.6 million and growing. Fresh local produce, fruit, and meat mean a lower carbon footprint, are more nutritious for patients, would help build a domestic market for our agriculture sector and would generate a significant multiplier effect.
On another front, New West voters welcome the leadership the NDP has shown in saying no to the Enbridge pipeline and committing to a rigorous made-in-B.C. environmental assessment process.
Our approach is one that will build our local and provincial economy in a sustainable way. It will work for our environment, for our hardworking families, for our children and our seniors.