VANCOUVER - The B.C. New Democrats are pledging to restore funding to a popular science program started by the B.C. Liberals but cancelled last year.

Opposition Leader Adrian Dix promised Monday that an NDP government would reinvest $1 million annually for the B.C. Program for Awareness and Learning of Science, a sort of travelling road show developed by Vancouver's Science World.

Dix said the government made a mistake last year by slashing the program, which was started under former premier Gordon Campbell's leadership in 2005.

"I think the program was excellent and it met its test at every performance indicator required," Dix told a throng of parents and children on Family Day inside the recognizable silver globe near the city's downtown core.

The NDP says surveys conducted by Science World while the program was still in place showed 89 per cent of students who participated reported it stirred their interest in science.

The program spread science to 140 communities and an average of 190,000 people — from Haida Gwaii to Fort St. John — including at least 45 First Nations' communities.

Dix said it could inspire students to work towards careers in science and technology, adding that 147,000 jobs will open in the field over the next decade.

"In the long run, the health of our society and our economy will depend on our ability to innovate in science and technology."

Christine Shanz, executive director of the Northwest Science and Innovation Society, appeared by videolink from Terrace, B.C., to support Dix's announcement.

She said she's pleased to hear the outreach program could return to deliver hands-on and interactive activities, allowing students and families in rural communities access to science programming without the need to travel to Vancouver.

"These students need access to the same experiences as those located in the Lower Mainland," she said.

Shanz noted there has been a surge of development in mining exploration, liquid natural gas and other alternative energy sources in that part of the province.

"We need to students to consider a career such as biology, engineering and environmental science," she said. "Science World's outreach program has been a key component in our region for promoting a wider understanding of the excitement and contribution of science and technology."

"When the funding ceased for Science World's outreach program, we were very sorry to see them leave."

Dix made his announcement a day before the legislature resumes for a five-week session prior to a month of campaigning followed by a general election in mid-May.

He said that if an NDP government took office, it would also plan to look at making better arrangements for building seabuses and for buying food for hospitals.

Dix said his party would also introduce legislation early in the session to end the environmental assessment equivalency agreement signed with Ottawa, allowing the federal review of the controversial Enbridge pipeline project to serve as the province's assessment as well.

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