The government could be doing more to promote the trades, said Michelle Mungall, the NDP's critic for advanced education. She was in Dawson Creek the day after Premier Christy Clark announced that almost $800,000 would be going to pay for new equipment for the Fort St. John campus of Northern Lights College.
"It'd be nice if we had more of those cutting edge technologies and programs throughout our rural college system," said the Nelson-Creston MLA.
"Many rural colleges are seeing a lot of aged equipment, buildings, not enough space for students who are demanding certain programs and these are some of the things that we need to look at for our post secondary sector."
Mungall toured the Northern Lights College on Wednesday, viewing its Energy House and learning more about what the school could offer.
Since August, she has toured post-secondary institutions around the province. While in Dawson Creek, she saw the aerospace engineering centre.
Mungall said she was pleased by what she saw at Northern Lights College.
"It's no doubt the commitment has to providing quality education to students in the north here and students in British Columbia," she said. "Here we are... learning that students who take these programs can work anywhere."
She also praised the recent move to provide more funding to these institutions.
"We're really glad that the Liberals have taken our lead," she said.
"The Liberals have been increasing their prioritization of trades training, of skills training, and that's been coming on the heels of what we've been saying for several years."
However, Mungall wanted a "fuller commitment" from the Liberals.
She pointed to a letter sent last February by 25 presidents of universities within B.C., including Laurie Rancourt, the President of Northern Lights College.
"It is critical for government to understand that the $70 million reduction to institutional grants over the last two years of the fiscal plan, combined with five years of unfunded inflationary pressures, creates a strain on the operations of post secondary institutions,” the letter states.
“We must be clear that it is unrealistic to assume that the reductions contemplated by Budget 2012 can be achieved without implications for service levels.”
However, Mungall did not say whether or not her government would roll back these changes to educational funding made by the province. She said that portion of her party’s platform was still being developed.
The presidents were not entirely critical of the province’s treatment of advanced education funding, as they praised the Liberals not reducing the post secondary budget for the next fiscal year and new funding for deferred capital maintenance.
She did say that the government would re-instate the needs based funding grants.
“We've already made an announcement… to reinstate the needs based grant program and put a hundred million dollars to do it,” Mungall added.
“Right now we're developing our platform and one thing is clear in the development of that platform is advanced education is definitely a priority for us.”
She believed this would benefit the economy.
“If we can help young people reduce the debt load when they finish their training and their education, they're able to get into the market, buy houses, buy cars and contribute more to the local economy rather than just having to pay back the banks.”
Mungall also believed that increased advanced education funding would also help the Peace Region and northeast B.C. as a whole.
“Most other parts of the province are predicting it to really come online in the next five years but it's already happening here in the northeast,” Mungall said.
“We need to get young people trained for jobs in the northeast and the best way to do that is to support college infrastructure.”
She also said that this could help ensure that more work on B.C. projects is done by workers who live in the province.
In the past, some community members have complained about Albertans working on B.C. projects and not contributing tax dollars.
However, Mungall pointed out that Alberta had a higher completion rate for apprenticeship, with a graduation rate around 70 per cent, while B.C. only had 40 per cent completion rate.
“I think the biggest thing that we can do to ensure that local people can qualify for the jobs they have available,” Mungall said. “So if we can increase our completion rate, get them the skills that they need to get those jobs that's the biggest solution that we can have.”
Despite the criticisms she made against Clark’s government, Mungall said her visit was not intended to come as a counter-point critique of the Clark government. She said that she had been hoping to visit Northern Lights College for sometime, and that last Wednesday was the time when her schedule and the school’s matched.
“I have no idea when (the Premier’s office) makes their specific announcements,” she said. “I'd like to take credit that she heard I was coming and wanted to make an announcement, but I can't say for sure.”