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Opinion In BC NDP’s budget update, another campaign promise broken, and here comes yet another

Stephen Quinn is the host of On the Coast on CBC Radio One, 690 AM and 88.1 FM in Vancouver.

It was a rare and uncharacteristic flash of honesty from a politician.

This week, after the BC NDP failed to include any details of its promised $10-a-day child-care program in its budget update, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver dismissed the promise as "irrelevant." To be clear, what Mr. Weaver said was, "as we all know, campaign promises, right now in this situation are not what's important."

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Now, you may be a parent who cast your vote for the NDP based, in part, on the promise of affordable child care, but making good on an NDP election promise is not the responsibility of the person leading the trio currently propping up the government. To be clear, Mr. Weaver is in favour of a universal child-care program, but he dismisses the $10-a-day promise as a slogan rather than a plan built on sound public policy. Again, Mr. Weaver was refreshing in his candour. The comment brought to mind another surprising moment of truth. It was during the 1993 federal election campaign when Kim Campbell told a reporter that "an election is no time to discuss serious issues."

While she may have been ridiculed for the comment at the time, Ms. Campbell was exactly right. It's not. Nor is it a time for promises. Yet, term after term, election after election, politicians of all stripes – at all levels – make promises that we know they have either no intention of keeping, or are beyond their control.

Former Premier Christy Clark's promise of untold riches from LNG – riches that would wipe out the province's debt and finance social programs beyond our dreams – well, we know how that turned out. It was fiction. The market tanked and potential investors fled.

Candidate Justin Trudeau's signature promise that the last election would be the last "first-past-the-post election" died a quiet death after what critics called a sham of a public consultation process.

I suspect that Premier John Horgan's $10-a-day child-care plan – in its current incarnation – will end up on the heap of promises politicians failed to deliver upon.

The problem is that, regardless of how many times we've been duped, we hold on to the flimsy strand of hope that comes with a promise – especially if it affects us directly.

Ask any parent who has been waiting for years for a quality, affordable child-care space.

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Ask any family in need of a decent, affordable home to rent.

Ask any homeless person who was promised a roof over their head.

While making promises and then not fulfilling them may be how politics is done, it is beyond cruel.

As Vancouver's by-election approaches, we see new promises being made.

The other day I passed by a small table set up on the corner of 1st Avenue and Commercial Drive with a huge sign that read, "Rent Freeze." Two people were handing out leaflets and gathering signatures on a petition. They were campaigning for Jean Swanson, the veteran anti-poverty and social-justice advocate who is vying for the council seat left open with the departure of Geoff Meggs.

Ms. Swanson has promised that, if elected, on her first day as a councillor she will submit a motion to council to officially take the position that there should be a zero-per-cent rent increase over the next four years.

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She would also ask the provincial government to set the maximum allowable rent increase at zero per cent for the next four years and commit council to "lobby fiercely" for the change. Rents would be tied to units, rather than renters, a move that would strip away a landlord's ability to raise rents beyond the annual allowable increase with each new tenant or at the end of a tenancy agreement.

"I'm going to be an activist councillor," she told me. "I'm going to try to open up that chamber to people who are working for change. If the province won't give good rent control and a rent freeze then we need to get the power from the province so the city can have that power."

Other council candidates have made a version of the affordability promise, but Ms. Swanson's pledge of a rent freeze stands alone.

I know her to be a tireless and vocal advocate who has fought for four decades to have the voices of Vancouver's most marginalized citizens heard. Her accomplishments are well documented.

But like $10-a-day childcare, "Rent Freeze" is a slogan that has been attached to one of the most urgent issues facing the city. Anyone making the promise should think long and hard about how their supporters will feel if they're not able to deliver on it.

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