The B.C. NDP rolled out its full platform on Wednesday, promising $2-billion in new programs paid for through tax hikes and money reallocated from existing Liberal programs.
The blueprint underscores the competing visions between the two leading parties. The NDP would invest in anti-poverty measures and skills-training programs, ahead of balancing the budget; the Liberals, by contrast, have campaigned on a fiscally conservative platform that puts spending restraint as its highest priority.
After a week of incremental policy announcements, the 55-page document gives British Columbians a final picture of what an NDP government would offer.
With the B.C. legislature as his backdrop, NDP Leader Adrian Dix said the platform was fiscally responsible as he outlined his vision for the province. "Everything is accounted for," Mr. Dix said. "Our spending commitments are in balance with our revenue measures, so our platform will not add a penny to the Liberal deficit."
The NDP previously announced it would increase the corporate income tax from 11 per cent to 12 per cent and reinstate a 3-per-cent tax on banks and a 1-per-cent tax on financial institutions with headquarters in B.C., including credit unions. Individuals, under the NDP plan, would be taxed 19 per cent on annual income above $150,000, a 2.2-per-cent increase from what the Liberals proposed in their budget.
But the party says it won't be able to balance the provincial budget for several years, and Mr. Dix offered no firm commitment to getting into the black in the fourth year of an NDP government.
The Liberals say Mr. Dix has now committed to more than $3-billion in spending, while the NDP contends the Liberal's own budget plan is $2-billion higher than stated over the next three years. The current budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year is projected to be $44-billion.
Liberal candidate Mike de Jong, finance minister in the Premier Christy Clark's government, dismissed the NDP platform as a reckless, vague agenda without specifics, such as ministry spending.
"We're going to have to retool the NDP spend-o-meter at the rate Mr. Dix and the NDP are going," he told reporters in Vancouver. The spend-o-meter is a billboard the Liberals put up in Delta to keep a running tally of what the NDP's campaign pledges would cost.
"This isn't a platform," Mr. de Jong said. "This is a weekend with the Kardashians. Spend, spend, spend."
New NDP spending would include investments in legal aid to take pressure off the courts by expanding the use of duty counsels, dispute resolution services for families, poverty law services and aboriginal services. The NDP would also increase support for Aboriginal Friendship Centres and would create a ministry of women's equality, meant to promote social and economic equality. These programs, including a $60 to $70 increase in allowances to families with low and moderate incomes, are part of a $600-million, three-year strategy the NDP calls "Reducing Poverty and Inequality."
Mr. Dix said he hopes to achieve a balanced budget by the fourth year of an NDP mandate, but suggested that this will depend on the outcome of a review of the books of key Crown corporation, BC Hydro.
"We're inheriting a very difficult financial situation," he said. "There are a lot of question marks. The government has mismanaged BC Hydro … Our intention is to manage and to ensure we reach those targets in the fourth year but it's going to be of course a major challenge. That is what we will be tested on and that is what we intend to do."
Last year, the Liberal government capped rate increases for BC Hydro's ratepayers, leaving the Crown utility with billions of dollars of debt piling up in so-called deferral accounts. While the government takes dividends from BC Hydro profits, the auditor-general has called the deferral accounts a smokescreen that creates the illusion of profit when there is none.
The NDP has promised a review of BC Hydro's books, but the platform does not provide any plan for addressing the fiscal challenge at the Crown corporation. Mr. Dix said it is the biggest shadow over any financial plan for the province's future.
"It's a significant problem at BC Hydro, that's why we have presented here the smallest platform we've seen in a number of elections," he told reporters.
With a report from Ian Bailey in Vancouver