Premier Christy Clark says she'll ease loan payments for students in British Columbia – in some cases forgiving further payments – as the third pillar of her Families First agenda.
Ms. Clark unveiled plans on Monday to relax student loan repayment options that could help up to 20,000 students annually.
The two-stage program for assistance with loan repayments takes effect on July 1 and offers help for students on their interest and principal payments, Ms. Clark said.
It is based on the student's ability to repay, family size and debt load.
The first stage will provide students with help paying the interest portion of their loans, while the second stage will involve principal payments, Ms. Clark told reporters.
Ms. Clark said the repayment assistance plan was designed by the federal government, with B.C. government input, but her plan has built-in flexibility that allows students with incomes above previous loan-relief program limits to qualify for reduced payments.
"The new repayment assistance plan is based on the borrowers' ability to pay, meaning that income, family size and student loan debt-load are all accounted for in the eligibility process," Ms. Clark said. "Our goal is to replace previous programs that were intended to help students manage their loans."
The Opposition NDP's advanced education critic, Michelle Mungall, said Ms. Clark's loan repayment pillar appears shaky.
"I really would not stand under this pillar," she said.
"We see a small point of change in a program that already exists and it's not going to have the broad-based impact we needed to have for B.C.'s economy."
Ms. Mungall said students in B.C. pay the highest loan interest rates in Canada – prime plus 2.5 per cent – and carry an average debt load of $27,000.
She said the NDP have pledged to fund $100-million in non-refundable grants to students by returning taxes on financial institutions to 2008 levels.
Ms. Clark said the three pillars of her Families First agenda include supporting vulnerable families, making communities safer and improving affordability for students.
She recently introduced a $5-million welfare adjustment that allows people receiving welfare and disability payments to supplement their incomes to help them with their transition back to the work force.
Earlier, Ms. Clark announced a $66-million plan to fight crime, especially gangs.
The Premier is also asking British Columbians for input on improving provincial daycare and education services by submitting suggestions to the government's families-first website.
Ms. Clark said those public responses will become part of the government's deliberations for next February's provincial budget.