As the B.C. election campaign moved into its second week, the would-be premiers hit the road in hopes of connecting with voters – NDP Leader Adrian Dix visited a craft distillery in the Okanagan and the Liberal’s Christy Clark literally laced up her running shoes for the Vancouver Sun Run.
It was also a day of tit-for-tat appearances and announcements, with parties issuing press releases within minutes on Sunday afternoon to criticize their counterpart’s spending plans.
In her only scheduled appearance Sunday, Ms. Clark ran the 10-kilometre event in about an hour, afterward praising the race as an exercise in solidarity with Boston, which is still reeling from attacks at last week’s iconic marathon.
Mr. Dix, meanwhile, was in the Okanagan to unveil a regulatory break for the province’s fledgling craft liquor industry, part of a series of changes the party proposes for the agricultural sector.
“We’re putting agriculture where it belongs in British Columbia – on the front of the political agenda,” Mr. Dix told reporters at an apple orchard in Lake Country – a community in the riding currently held by Liberal Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick.
In response, Mr. Letnick cited several funding and program commitments made in recent years and said agricultural output has increased by 30 per cent since the Liberals came to power.
Mr. Dix said an NDP government would give craft distilleries the same kind of support as B.C.’s successful wine industry. That would mean a smaller government markup and the ability to sell directly to restaurants and bars without handing over a share to provincial coffers.
The changes are designed to help businesses such as Okanagan Spirits Distillery.The craft distiller, tucked in an old Kelowna hardware store once owned by WAC Bennett, swept the World Spirit Awards last month but faces a regulatory regime in which the B.C. government takes two-thirds of the revenue on each bottle.
A gleaming copper still was trickling out the distillery’s new project – single malt scotch – when Mr. Dix toured the facility on Sunday after visiting the orchard. But it won’t be bottled yet, as CEO Tyler Dyck is waiting to see what the election will bring.
The province’s craft distillers together produce about 100,000 bottles of spirits each year, accounting for about 0.2 per cent of the spirits consumed in B.C.
Under recent policy changes announced by the B.C. Liberal government, the distillers have to find a made-in-B.C. source for all their ingredients if they want the same benefits that government provides to the province’s wineries.
The NDP would require only 51 per cent B.C. content to qualify.
In all, the New Democrats are promising to boost agriculture programs by $8-million each year. That includes improved marketing, support to replant with higher-value crops, and a program to get hospitals to serve more locally grown food.
Jeet Dukhia, president of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association, welcomed the NDP policy but said more is needed. “It’s a healthy start,” he told reporters after serving up slices of local ambrosia apples to the crowd on hand for the announcement.
He said the Liberal budget is less than halfway to meeting the national average, a level he called “shameful.”
Both parties took runs at the other’s spending plans.
Liberal candidate Mike de Jong, Finance Minister in Ms. Clark’s cabinet, unveiled the Spend-o-Meter at a flashing roadside sign in Delta.
The ad, which will also play on the B.C. Liberal web site, is a running tally of numbers professing to show the escalating cost of NDP promises laid out by Mr. Dix in a week of policy announcements.
The Liberals have argued the spending is uncontrolled. The NDP says it will pay for the commitments through tax hikes, spending shifts and running a deficit for three years.
The opposition finance critic was on scene before the roadside event even began, ready to respond to Mr. de Jong moments after he finished.
Bruce Ralston told reporters gathered at the site that the Liberals are increasing the debt, and have run five consecutive budget deficits leading to a current balanced budget that polls suggest the public does not believe is really balanced.
The NDP are nearing the end of a string of daily policy announcements, and will begin to spend more time focused on trying to define the differences between them and the Liberals.
The NDP’s efforts to raise funds from the corporate community continued to draw attention, with the Liberals accusing the NDP of “strong-arm” tactics as a result of a letter that surfaced on the weekend. The NDP’s Mr. Dix, as well as Mr. Ralston, have said the party has done nothing wrong in its fundraising and also emphasized that the NDP propose to ban corporate and union donations.