Business tax increases are "a reality" if the New Democratic Party wins the next B.C. election, says party leader Adrian Dix.
Mr. Dix delivered the message at the least-welcoming forum he could find – a sold-out crowd of business leaders who paid to listen to the politician who could be the province's next premier.
In a 26-minute speech before the Vancouver Board of Trade that he delivered without notes, Mr. Dix offered up his blunt reality with a smile. He complimented his political rivals as "worthy of respect" and said he would not seek to undo the past 11 years of B.C. Liberal rule.
At his table over lunch, Mr. Dix sat with a senior banker, a top real estate developer, a tax accountant and others who led some in the room in a standing ovation at the end of the NDP Leader's speech.
More than half the room remained seated, however, reflecting the skepticism that remains about the prospects of another NDP government in B.C.
Phillip Hochstein, long a vocal opponent of the NDP, adopted a measured tone on Tuesday. "The business community needs certainty – I don't think it is quite clear yet what the future is going to look like under an NDP government," said the president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.
Mr. Dix promised to be upfront about the tax policies an NDP government would introduce.
He repeated his commitment to raise corporate taxes back to the levels that existed in 2008 and to reinstate a minimum tax on banks.
He cited the current fiscal woes at TransLink, saying the province needs the capacity to be able to plan and pay for services such as public transit.
"It's not easy to say we are going to raise taxes," he said. "This is a reality of the times."
The speech offered no real surprises – Mr. Dix has been holding smaller, private meetings with business in the lead-up to his first Board of Trade speech.
Iain Black, president of the Vancouver Board of Trade, said the message on taxes was unwelcome but at least business will have a clear understanding of what to expect.
"He painted a picture that, should he be successful forming the next government, he has got a straitjacket," Mr. Black noted.
Mr. Dix listed some of the constraints that face the next government – regardless of which party wins the May, 2013 election – including the size of the provincial debt, international trade agreements and declining federal transfers for health care.
That leaves business taxes, in Mr. Dix's view, as a critical source of budget wiggle room.
"I represent thousands of businesses – most of them small businesses – for whom that would be a cause for concern," Mr. Black said.
Mr. Dix promised to keep an NDP agenda small, telling the crowd bluntly that the previous NDP governments tried to do too much.
"We want to be a government that focuses on the fundamentals, that understands the limitations of modern government," he said.
Mark von Schellwitz, chair of the Coalition of B.C. Businesses, said he had hoped for more specific details of what a Dix government would do on labour law. "We are hoping we can work together with Mr. Dix and the NDP to come up with labour policies in advance [of the election] that will put our members' minds at ease."
Mr. Dix, responding to questions from reporters after his speech, said his main focus on labour policy will be to improve employment standards rather than overhaul collective bargaining rules.