Former B.C. finance minister Mike de Jong says education and a job are the keys to fighting poverty.
So, de Jong, one of six candidates vying for the leadership of the B.C. Liberal Party, said Friday if he wins, and the Liberals form the next B.C. government, he will increase the amount of money the province gives children for their post-secondary education.
As finance minister, de Jong introduced a program where the province provides every child born in B.C. after Jan. 1, 2006 $1,200 when they turn six years of age to be placed in a registered education savings plan. The money grows over time and is to be used for post-secondary education or trades training. On Friday in Kelowna, de Jong said if he was premier, an additional $500 per year would be added for each eligible child until they graduate from high school.
According to figures released by the de Jong campaign, under his plan, combining provincial and federal grants with savings of just $10 per month by parents, a child born in 2014 could have $11,200 by the time he or she graduates from high school.
“The boost to the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant is an investment in the next generation and in our province,” said de Jong in making the announcement at UBC Okanagan.
“An education unlocks unimagined possibilities for individuals and it helps build a more prosperous province.”
De Jong is in town to participate in the fourth B.C. leadership campaign debate Saturday at the Coast Capri Hotel. The debate, which is free and open to the public, starts at 10:30 a.m. The doors open at 10 a.m.
The B.C. Liberal Party will hold a leadership convention Feb. 3, following a vote by party members, to name its new leader.
The race is pitting de Jong against former transportation minister Todd Stone, former advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson, former Surrey mayor and former Conservative MP Dianne Watts, former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan and current Liberal MLA Michael Lee.
De Jong said his plan to increase the B.C. Training and Education Savings Grant would cost about $175 million but said the investment would be worth it.
“We don’t manage our economy and budget well for its own sake,” he said. “We do it so we have the ability to invest in programs that make life better for people.”
But given that the job he is seeking will make him the leader of the Opposition if he wins and not premier, de Jong took a few shots at the current NDP government in his comments.
“The NDP’s reckless approach to our economy is risking our province’s ability to make investments like this,” he said. “That’s why I’ll continue holding them accountable every day.”
He said while he’s proud of what his party did while in power for 16 years, it’s clear given the results of last May’s provincial election it must reconnect with voters and not only hear their concerns, but act on them.
The Liberals won the most seats in May’s election but fell one seat short of a majority. As a result, the combined effort of the NDP and the B.C. Green Party ousted former premier Christy Clark’s minority Liberal government in a vote of non-confidence shortly after the election. Clark resigned as premier and Liberal leader in August and quit politics.
De Jong is stressing his experience, the fact as finance minister he oversaw five consecutive balanced budgets and the fact that former government left one of the strongest provincial economies in the country to its successor.
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