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Five-year income-tax freeze highlights B.C. Liberal platform

BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark emerges after unveiling the party's platform in Vancouver on April 15, 2013.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The B.C. Liberals have released their full platform as campaigning begins for the May 14 election – an agenda of tax cuts, tax freezes and resource development to draw distinctions with the NDP. B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark has lately taunted the NDP for its decision to release its platform in pieces over the next 28 days, suggesting a hidden agenda as New Democrats seek to return to government for the first time since 2001.

By releasing the platform in full Monday, Ms. Clark declared she was being forthright in her bid for a fourth Liberal term.

"It's our entire platform for everyone to see," Ms. Clark told reporters during a news conference where the platform was released in the style of a provincial budget with a lockup attended by Finance Minister Mike de Jong.

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"We aren't presenting this one in bits and pieces, dribs and drabs, here and there, with portions sitting back in campaign headquarters under wraps," Ms. Clark said. "I am releasing it the only way I know how, and that's up front and open and in its entirety."

The boast is a preview of Ms. Clark's attack on the NDP as the campaign begins Tuesday with her visit to the Lieutenant-Governor in Victoria.

Key pieces of the Liberal platform include a commitment to freeze personal income tax rates for the next five years, freeze the carbon tax for five years, and cut small-business taxes by 40 per cent.

The Liberals would also place a cap on government expenditures against the rate of nominal GDP, and launch a core review of government ministries. Other pieces include a commitment to a public referendum on tax or toll measures to raise money for transit projects in the Lower Mainland and a $500 annual tax credit for teachers who coach sports and run arts programs outside their regular shifts.

While the B.C. NDP has proposed to deepen tax credits for the film and TV sector, the Liberals are promising to work with rival jurisdictions Ontario and Quebec on joint film-incentive policies. Ms. Clark has opposed spending more on tax breaks.

All of the measures coincided with the release of an Angus Reid public opinion poll that shows B.C. New Democrats hold a 17-point lead on the Liberals as the campaign begins and that Jane Sterk, Leader of the seatless B.C. Greens, has edged ahead of Ms. Clark in terms of approval ratings – 29 per cent for Ms. Sterk compared to 27 per cent for Ms. Clark.

Twenty-eight per cent of respondents picked New Democrat Adrian Dix as best premier, compared to 18 per cent for Ms. Clark, according to the poll.

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Ms. Clark, who succeeded Gordon Campbell as Liberal Leader and Premier in early 2011, was briskly dismissive. "I have answered that question 8,000 times," she said, encouraging a review of her record in which she has said she doesn't believe polls.

But Mr. de Jong was more guarded about the Liberals' precarious situation, suggesting a "tough campaign" ahead because decisions over the past dozen years of Liberal government have inevitably angered some voters.

Mr. de Jong said the party is betting on a "balanced" approach that won't affect plans to eliminate the deficit – "not the typical kind of spending extravaganza that governments use to appeal to voters at election time." By comparison, the NDP has said Liberal claims of a balanced budget are false and promised to eliminate the deficit over three years.

And Mr. de Jong said he's hoping it appeals to what he described as a "quiet majority" of B.C. voters, who might be in sync with its commitments.

"They're not necessarily the most vocal British Columbians, and they're not necessarily the people you see outside demonstrating and on Twitterers and blogs, but I believe, confronted by the choice that is now beginning to emerge, that silent majority will arise and dramatically alter the outcome of this election in a way a lot of pundits don't expect."

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins said Liberal flip-flops in recent years hinder the credibility of the Liberal commitments. "These guys don't have a good track record. You simply can't believe their word," said Mr. Cummins., whose Conservatives recently had only one seat in the legislature until the MLA quit the party, saying he couldn't work with Mr. Cummins.

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As the election campaign begins, the Liberals have 45 seats and the New Democrats 36. There are four independents.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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