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Clark promises education shift, stresses private-sector needs

British Columbia Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, right, and Premier Christy Clark wave from the steps of the Legislature Building before the Throne Speech on Feb. 11, 2014 in Victoria, B.C.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Premier Christy Clark is warning the province's postsecondary institutions that they must do a better job of churning out graduates who meet the needs of the private sector.

The B.C. Liberal government's Throne Speech on Tuesday promises to overhaul B.C.'s education system from high school and beyond to shape a work force that can meet the demand for skilled tradespeople in the coming decade.

"We are going to engage with postsecondary institutions about what kinds of programs they are providing and ensuring they are connected to the needs of the private sector," Ms. Clark later told reporters.

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She said there are students collecting degrees that won't lead to employment.

"That's a significant human loss. So I think we should be making sure we are providing programming in our postsecondary institutions that provides people, young and old, with the promise and prospect of prosperity when they graduate."

Ms. Clark added the changes have to happen starting in high school, with more access to skills training.

The B.C. Liberal government first announced its skills-training plan in the fall of 2012, but it then cut funding for advanced education.

After the election last May, however, Ms. Clark met with private-sector union leaders to discuss how to ensure B.C. workers will be qualified for the jobs that are expected to be created if a liquefied natural gas industry takes off in B.C. Those talks are expected to result in changes to the Industry Training Authority later this year.

The Throne Speech, read by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon, promised action this year "to make sure British Columbians are ready to be first in line for the job opportunities that are coming."

The speech touted the "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for establishing an LNG industry in B.C., but noted there are not enough skilled workers in the province to build the infrastructure.

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The government is promising to unveil a framework this spring to set out how it expects the LNG industry to take shape, including a tax regime, environment regulations to make that industry "the cleanest in the world," and a plan to address benefits for First Nations.

In her address, the Lieutenant-Governor said the B.C. government will ensure First Nations communities will not be left behind if LNG develops.

"We must be the generation that not only puts British Columbia on a path to new economic growth, but also ensures that First Nations are an integral part of that growth."

In 2012, Ms. Clark promised a comprehensive plan to expand and align skills-training programs to ensure that "British Columbians have the right skills for the job opportunities of today and tomorrow."

But it is not clear how much has been done since. Last week, the Construction Association of B.C. launched a fundraising drive to help supply needed tools for shop classes in high schools – after receiving almost $9-million worth of requests from shop teachers who don't have the basic tools to introduce students to a trades education.

The Throne Speech marks the beginning of the spring legislature session in Victoria, the first time the House has been recalled since last summer. The government is also looking at changes to the Water Act, to liquor laws, and to the way transportation infrastructure is planned. "Over the coming year, your government will develop a new ten-year transportation plan that will identify the areas of greatest need for investment as we move into the next decade," the speech states.

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Adrian Dix, leader of the New Democratic Party opposition, said the Throne Speech was "bankrupt" of ideas. "They have no plan, they have no vision." He noted that there was no mention of child poverty, or a plan to help British Columbians who are struggling to make ends meet.

But Ms. Clark told reporters her government was being consistent with the themes that she had based her last election campaign on, around promising LNG and growing the economy.

Other highlights from the speech from the throne:

The throne speech repeats Premier Christy Clark's lofty vision for the liquefied natural gas industry, including that it could create 100,000 jobs and eliminate the province's debt. The speech is still short on specifics about how the industry will be regulated and taxed, saying only that those details will be worked out "this year."

The Liberals will introduce a motion to formally apologize for historical wrongs done to the Chinese-Canadian community. The promise was overshadowed by controversy last year after a memo surfaced that suggested the party planned to use such an apology to shore up votes ahead of the provincial election.

The government will create a 10-year skills training plan aimed at helping young people enter the work force, along with measures to help older workers retrain.

The Liberals plan to spend the next year developing a 10-year transportation plan that will identify the areas of B.C. with the greatest need for investment.

The province will continue to pursue its goal of a 10-year labour agreement with teachers, although the B.C. Teachers' Federation has publicly rejected a deal of that length.

The government will introduce a long-term plan to address domestic violence against Aboriginal and vulnerable women, following up on an announcement last week that a three-year, $5.5-million program is in the works.

Legislation will be passed to modernize the province's liquor laws by implementing a series of changes, such as allowing alcohol sales in grocery stores, that were outlined in a report released late last month.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
B.C. politics reporter

Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics. More

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