09/12/2011 07:50 EDT | Updated 11/12/2011 05:12 EST

B.C. NDP calls for bank-funded grants for students

New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix is attempting to steal some thunder from Premier Christy Clark's anticipated jobs agenda.

Clark is due to reveal her jobs strategy next week, but Dix admits he was trying to get ahead of her on the education front by calling on the Liberals to restore needs-based grants to post-secondary education students.

Dix made the election-style announcement at Camosun College campus near Victoria where he says he will push the Liberals to do more to help debt-burdened students.

"I know the premier has recently discovered there's a jobs issue in British Columbia, about the same time she discovered she wasn't going to have an election," said Dix.

"But that's fine, we've got our work to do, and what I always try and do is bring about change from the Opposition side if I'm not yet on the government side."

Dix said it's been tougher for students since the B.C. government eliminate needs-based student grants seven years ago. He wants to restore the program immediately and pay for it with a minimum tax on banks, which he estimates would raise more than $100 million.

"I'd like to pressure the government — force the government — to make these changes now," he said.

Dix said the grants should be available to all who qualify for student loans.

'Bigger picture'

However, Advanced Education Minister Naomi Yamamoto quickly dismissed the Dix's plans, saying she won't be taking any advice from the NDP leader.

"I'm not sure how he plans to pay for that, but right now we're looking at ensuring we balance the budget and that means that we need to be fiscally responsible," Yamamoto said.

"l look at the bigger picture and the good news here is that 70 per cent of our students actually graduate without a student debt."

The B.C. government replaced the needs-based grants in 2004 with an expanded student loan program.

A Liberal official confirmed that Clark will start laying out her jobs agenda early next week, culminating in two major addresses on Sept. 22 at the Vancouver Board of Trade and Sept. 23 at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

The official said education and training will be major focuses of Clark's jobs plan, but he provided no details.

Clark will focus on forestry, mining, tourism, natural gas, energy, ports and airports, clean technology, green technology, agribusiness and international education, the official said, declining to be named.

It will be the most major policy initiative Clark has introduced since becoming Liberal leader and premier earlier this year.