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Condominiums are seen in the Yaletown neighbourhood of Vancouver, on Sept. 30, 2020.

JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

B.C. New Democrats say they will freeze all residential rents to the end of 2021 if they are elected to government and offer British Columbians who qualify a one-time $1,000 payment as part of efforts over the next year to help with affordability.

The promises were part of the NDP’s campaign platform released on Tuesday for the Oct. 24 provincial election. That platform also promises to expand the $10-a-day child-care program the party campaigned on in 2017, but which has had a slow rollout. The party says an NDP government would also create British Columbia’s second medical school at a location to be determined.

Other commitments include free transit for kids up to age 12, and a fund to provide $3-billion a year to build new hospitals, schools and other projects, creating 18,000 jobs a year.

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A new NDP government would also provide a rebate to income-tested renters of $400 per year for households earning up to $80,000 annually that are not already receiving other rental support.

The platform contains 154 commitments, 60 of them new.

BC Liberals pledge to temporarily eliminate provincial sales tax

B.C. election delays financial aid promised to struggling businesses during pandemic

“We have three basic priorities: better health care for you and your family, affordability and security in your home and in your community and good jobs and livelihoods in a clean-energy future," NDP Leader John Horgan said.

But the BC Liberals and the agency that represents property owners and managers in the province said the rental plan could affect the supply of rental housing.

A 2018 task force formed by the NDP government rejected the idea of a rent freeze for the same reason.

David Hutniak, chief executive officer of LandlordBC, which represents property owners and managers, said his group is “not insensitive” to the challenges renters have finding safe and affordable housing.

But he added in a statement that rent increases to cover increasing costs such as taxes, utilities and insurance are necessary for the viability of the sector and to ensure British Columbians have continued access to safe, secure, sustainable rental housing.

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Jas Johal, an incumbent BC Liberal candidate in Richmond, said the rent freeze would be a short-term fix and would not deal with underlying issues of housing affordability. At worst, he said, it could discourage developers from building new rental housing and landlords from investing in existing units.

“A temporary rent freeze, which may help for the moment, isn’t going to deal with the longer-term challenges of affordability,” Mr. Johal said at a news conference.

The NDP’s $1,000 payment would come in the form of a one-time direct deposit to families whose household income is less than $125,000 annually, and households earning up to $175,000 would receive smaller payments on a sliding scale. Single people earning less than $62,000 a year would be eligible for $500 with a sliding scale up to $87,000.

Mr. Johal called the proposed payments “a naked attempt to bribe B.C. taxpayers with their own money.”

Selina Robinson, who is the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said in an interview that the BC NDP has been trying to balance the needs of renters and landlords.

“We’re finding space for landlords as well,” she said. “Landlords do have to invest, so they can recoup that as well. We’re trying to find that balance and that’s our challenge.”

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Sonia Furstenau, Leader of the BC Greens, said she expected the NDP proposal would have found support in the legislature had the party not called an unnecessary election a year earlier than planned.

“All of the proposals that are in the NDP platform today could have been worked on right now in the legislature. We could be moving forward on these proposals,” she said.

Ms. Furstenau noted that landlords face fixed costs.

Ms. Robinson said the NDP has been trying to make up for years of BC Liberal inaction on housing affordability.

“We need more time. There is certainly more to do, but that’s the work we have been doing for the last three and a half years,” she said.

At dissolution, the NDP had 41 members, and the Liberals 41, with two Greens, two independents and one vacancy.

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With a report from The Canadian Press

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