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Liberal minister crashes NDP's education platform release

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 BC Liberal campaign jacket.

The education announcement comes 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.

The New Democrats say 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.

Dirk Meissner reports for the Canadian Press.

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