COURTENAY, B.C. - Liberal Education Minister Don McRae crashed New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix's election campaign announcement Thursday, creating a side-show atmosphere in what was to be the release of a key policy plank for the NDP.
Reporters filed onto a big yellow school bus and were transported to a Comox Valley park gazebo for the multimillion dollar education announcement.
McRae showed up at the park near the end of Dix's announcement and waited until the news conference was over to greet the Opposition leader.
The two politicians shook hands and exchanged what appeared to be forced pleasantries about each other's clothes in Courtenay's Marina Park.
"I came looking for your platform because I couldn't find it," joked McRae, in a pointed reference to claims that the NDP has been campaigning on a hidden platform.
"It's good to see you. Take care," said Dix. "It's a nice looking shirt you have on, but I'm not too sure about the jacket you have on."
McRae was wearing a B.C. Liberals campaign jacket.
The education announcement came less than 24 hours after Dix appeared in Finance Minister Mike de Jong's Abbotsford riding to make announcements on skill-training funding and a freeze on BC Ferries fares for two years.
British Columbians will elect a new government on May 14. The B.C. election is into its third day.
Dix said his plans to improve public education in B.C. involve spending $372 million over three years.
"If you look at what's happened over the last 10 years, education has unfortunately been a battleground, and kids have suffered, and so we have to change that and that's what this plan seeks to do," he said.
Dix said the NDP plans to spend $265 million to hire new teachers, counsellors, education assistants and librarians. He said the money could be used to hire up to 1,000 specialized classroom assistants.
He told a crowd of parents and children who were at his announcement that years of Liberal cuts and confrontation has left British Columbia with too many overcrowded classrooms.
Dix said some may say he is not doing enough with his education spending plans.
"In terms of the changes, changes that are important and significant, but modest, and in the case of education, some people will say modest, but not enough, but that is what we can afford to do now," he said.
The New Democrats said another $300 million that is sitting in the bank from the current Liberal government's RESP fund will be set aside for use in other issues involving children, including early learning and childcare.
BC Teachers Federation president-elect Jim Iker said the NDP education funding announcement is a good start.
"We have a political party that recognizes the need for improved supports for our students as well as recognize what's happened in the last decade with the underfunding and the cuts not only to classroom teachers but our specialist teachers."
Iker said the announcement is a recognition that our children are a very important resource for all of British Columbia.
The NDP also announced it will provide $100 million over three years to lower costs and increase child care spaces for infant and toddler care.
The money will reduce fees at existing licensed infant and toddler care facilities by 20 per cent and save families an average of $2,000 a year in reduced fees.
The NDP plan is expected to cost $60 million a year once it's been established.
McRae said the NDP appears to be making up its platform on a daily basis.
"The key thing is you've got to live within your means," he said. "We're not going to mortgage our children's future. One of the things with the NDP is they are making up these platforms as they go through the day. The only way they are going to pay for it is by debt."
Last week, the NDP issued a financial plan that said the New Democrats believe they will have $2.03 billion to spend over the next three years if elected.
The money will be raised by increases in corporate, bank and high-income earners taxes, the NDP said. The party also expects to earn revenue by expanding the carbon tax to include venting emissions.
The NDP said its job-skills and ferry-fare announcements are worth $485 million over three years, while its education announcement is worth $372 million. That leaves the potential government with $1.175 billion over three years, said a campaign official
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