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BC NDP’s election promises are ‘irrelevant,’ Green Leader says

B.C. Green party leader Andrew Weaver.

Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

Andrew Weaver, the BC Green Party Leader, says the new NDP government will not implement its election promises for a $400 annual renters' rebate or its $10-a-day daycare plan because the Greens will not support those measures as proposed.

The NDP toppled the Liberal minority government in June after reaching an agreement with the Greens, and although the Greens have said they will support the NDP on budget measures, the deal requires "meaningful consultation."

"Their election commitments are irrelevant right now," Mr. Weaver said in an interview on Tuesday.

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"They did not win the election. They have an agreement [with the Greens] that has the confidence in the House."

His remarks set the stage for some intense talks.

The NDP budget introduced on Monday did not include funds for the promised daycare and renters' rebate, and Finance Minister Carole James acknowledged the precise shape of those programs are still subject to negotiations with the Greens.

"On the $400 renters' rebate – it's not going to happen," Mr. Weaver said. "We share the same values as the BC NDP on making life more affordable, but that money would be better targeted to where it is needed most."

He said the three-member Green caucus supports universal daycare, but the specifics of the NDP plan are in dispute.

The NDP formed its minority government after signing a confidence and supply agreement with the Greens. British Columbia voters returned 43 Liberal MLAs, 41 NDP and three Greens.

In exchange for consultation, the Greens pledged to vote for NDP budgets – even when they oppose specific measures – to ensure the government will not fall on a vote of confidence. A secretariat was formed in the Premier's Office to manage and nurture the agreement.

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Ms. James told reporters she is still working toward delivering the renters' rebate and $10-a-day childcare.

"Those are both commitments that we made during the election campaign," she said. "That's a reality for us in forming government, is to make sure that we are having discussions with the Greens around where we may have a difference of opinion around how we're implementing programs and services."

Ms. James fast-tracked a promised increase to B.C.'s carbon tax in this week's budget update as part of the NDP-Green agreement.

The carbon tax hike will do more for the New Democrats than bolster their environmental credibility: It also signals the party's plans for a redistribution of wealth aimed at ensuring the province's highest earners pay a larger share of funding significant election promises.

When the carbon tax was introduced in 2008, the Liberal government of the day pledged it would be revenue-neutral. But on Monday, Ms. James eliminated that requirement.

As of next April, the average household will face a 17 per cent increase for the carbon tax. The tax will increase by $5 per tonne per year until reaching $50 per tonne in 2021. That will put B.C. ahead of the national targets in the pan-Canadian agreement on climate change.

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Existing tax credits for low- and middle-income earners will rise to cover the increases. But the remainder of the new revenues will be diverted to pay for climate action initiatives.

"We believe that the value of a carbon tax is carrot-and-stick," Ms. James told reporters as she introduced the budget. "Ending the revenue-neutrality means that we can utilize those resources for green initiatives."

The carbon tax was just one of the tax changes announced on Monday in a budget update that boosted social spending and hiked taxes for people making more than $150,000 annually and for corporations. The government is also reducing Medical Services Plan premiums and cutting the small business tax rate.

With the fiscal year almost half over, the NDP government increased total spending by $1.7-billion, but it has deferred its most costly election campaign commitments to next year.

The update earned muted support from the business community for prudent forecasting, but analysts will be watching the next budget for changes that could affect the province's credit rating.

"From a credit perspective, we'll have to see how much more program spending is coming, and weigh that against a backdrop of thin surpluses and as-good-as-it-gets external economic conditions," wrote Robert Kavcic, senior economist for BMO Capital Markets.

Ms. James said the details of how the carbon tax revenue will be allocated under the new plan are still being worked out. She said her government will appoint a new climate action team to make recommendations.

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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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