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BC Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves after speaking about the party's election platform, in Vancouver on Oct. 13, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A BC Liberal government would cut taxes and increase spending to finance new daycare spaces, build long-term care facilities and hire more police officers, among other investments, for a total of $9.2-billion in commitments in its first year if elected.

Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson, whose party has long been associated with austerity measures, said the recession generated by the COVID-19 pandemic demands big spending and major tax cuts. “We’ll grow our way out of this recession,” he said, adding that a Liberal government would begin next year to map out a plan to return to balanced budgets, but that shift would not be achieved in a single term in office.

“My personal goal is to say, within five years of having a vaccine, we need to have a balanced budget in British Columbia once again,” he said Tuesday. “Now is not the time to cut social services.”

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British Columbia’s NDP minority government triggered a snap election that will send voters to the polls Oct. 24. The Liberals have already rolled out a series of promises including a dramatic tax cut – the elimination of the 7-per-cent provincial sales tax for one year – to help kick-start the economy.

B.C. sees 100-fold increase in election mail-in ballot requests

As well, Mr. Wilkinson said, a Liberal government would appoint a Fair Tax Commission, “to immediately review all provincial taxes, and to recommend which should be adjusted, reduced or eliminated.”

Mr. Wilkinson used his policy announcement on Tuesday morning to try to defuse a brewing controversy over sexist remarks made at a party fundraiser last month. On the weekend, a leaked video showed him smiling and chuckling as one of his candidates made sexualized and belittling comments about a female political rival, New Democrat Bowinn Ma.

During the event, long-time MLA Jane Thornthwaite referred to Ms. Ma as a “pretty lady” who displayed her cleavage for political advantage. The Liberal Leader said on Tuesday that he was embarrassed and appalled when the remarks were made.

The fundraiser was held as a roast for a retiring MLA, Ralph Sultan. Ms. Thornthwaite, in her speech, suggested Ms. Ma, who is a professional engineer with a master’s degree in business management, had disarmed Mr. Sultan by sitting close to him, "cuddling, a little bit of cleavage there. And Ralph would be enthralled with her.”

Mr. Wilkinson, in his first public response to the video, offered a belated apology to Ms. Ma, but said he didn’t think he needed to challenge Ms. Thornthwaite at the time. "Her performance and choice of words was so inappropriate that it was abundantly clear by the end of the roast that she made a bit of a fool of herself.“

Ms. Thornthwaite said on Twitter on the weekend that she had reached out to Ms. Ma to apologize.

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With less than two weeks before election day, the Liberals are seeking to sway voters with a platform that builds on many of the pandemic initiatives already rolled out by the incumbent NDP government. The NDP have already boosted spending in health care, education and social services in response to the pandemic.

The balanced budget that was introduced in February has now been revised, with a forecasted deficit of $12.8-billion.

The NDP election platform includes $2.4-billion in new operating spending, including a one-time $1,000 COVID-19 recovery benefit for families and $500 for individuals. Their plan would drive this year’s deficit to more than $15-billion.

While the two platforms are similar in many respects, the Liberals say they will do more to get British Columbians back to work.

“We will deliver the biggest infrastructure investment in B.C. history, with a total investment of $30.9-billion over three years, including in transportation, hospitals, primary care clinics, seniors' care homes, mental health treatment and affordable housing,” the platform states.

The single biggest spending commitment in the Liberal plan is for child care. Mr. Wilkinson said the NDP’s commitment to $10-a-day daycare has not delivered relief for most families. “This is a real plan for $10-a-day daycare,” he said. In addition, the Liberals would add 10,000 new daycare spaces. The annual cost of those two measures would be $1.1-billion.

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“We need a British Columbia that creates opportunity for everyone,” Mr. Wilkinson said.

The pandemic has exposed challenges in long-term care facilities, putting vulnerable seniors at high risk of infection. The Liberals are promising $1-billion over five years to build new long-term care facilities to reduce crowding. In addition, they would offer a new $7,000-a-year tax credit to allow more seniors to remain in their homes.

The Liberals also promise investments in affordable housing, and a review of regulatory processes to ensure more timely approvals for new home construction.

Helmut Pastrick, chief economist for Central One Credit Union, said economic growth is the solution for tackling the budget deficit that would grow in both the Liberal and NDP plans.

“Obviously the temporary measures to mitigate the negative income effects from the pandemic will end and that will reduce the deficit. At the same time, more parts of the economy will reopen and generate more revenue,” he said. In either case, it will be years before the province can expect to return to a balanced budget, he said, but the timeline for tackling the deficit will depend on how either party would rein in spending.

NDP candidate Selina Robinson, in a statement, said the Liberals are not being transparent about tax cuts, because the promised Fair Tax Commission will defer those decisions until after the election. She said the Liberals have supported tax cuts that benefit big business and the wealthy.

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“Andrew Wilkinson’s record is clear. He supports billions in tax breaks for the richest British Columbians. He’s hiding those plans until after the election because he knows everyone else will pay for it with higher fees and cuts to services like health care and education," she said.

Mr. Wilkinson said he has no immediate plans to cut government spending.

“In response to the idea that there will be cuts in government spending in the next few years under a Liberal government, the answer is no.”

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