B.C.’s governing Liberals, who face defeat in a confidence vote, plan to reverse course on two key policies in this week’s Throne Speech by promising to ban corporate and union political donations, and to increase social-assistance payments.
The turnarounds come a week after the party abandoned a long-standing policy to require Vancouver mayors to hold a referendum before introducing new measures to raise money for public transit. The Liberals repeatedly defended the requirement in the recent election campaign.
Critics quickly denounced the reversals as desperate posturing by a government that is about to be defeated after 16 years in power.
The Liberals put forward two cabinet ministers Monday to defend the policy shifts, insisting they heard the message from voters after an election that resulted in B.C.’s first minority government in six decades.
“Any political party has to be prepared to listen and to learn, and this Throne Speech will reflect what we have learned from British Columbians,” Attorney-General Andrew Wilkinson said in an interview.
Under Premier Christy Clark, the Liberals campaigned against the policies they have now embraced.
Mr. Wilkinson, for example, conceded in an interview that Ms. Clark was “definitive” until now in her policy against the kind of campaign finance reform now supported by the party.
The province has been branded the “Wild West” of campaign finance because it does not have any limits on political donations. The Liberals have resisted changing a system that allowed them to raise more than $12-million last year – double the total raised by the New Democrats – largely from corporate donors.
Earlier this year, Ms. Clark announced a panel would be convened after the election to recommend campaign reforms, but she refused to say which changes she preferred. She said it would be irresponsible for politicians to come up with the rules themselves.
“Politicians should not be deciding how this works – politicians have way too much self-interest to make these changes,” Ms. Clark told The Globe and Mail during an editorial board meeting in May.
Mr. Wilkinson said the party realized during the election campaign that it was time to “decisively” deal with campaign-finance reform instead of sticking to its previous commitment to appoint a panel.
The New Democrats have long promised to ban corporate and union donations.
The NDP’s Selina Robinson said the Liberals appeared to be acting on areas they have refused to address during their 16 years in power.
“We just went through an election. These things weren’t in their platform. The only thing I see that has changed is that they lost the election,” Ms. Robinson said in an interview.
The Liberals won the most seats – 43 of 87 in the legislature. However, the NDP, which have 41 seats, and the BC Greens, which have three, have agreed to use their combined majority to vote out the Liberals on the soonest possible confidence measure, the Throne Speech.
The Liberals also plan to use Thursday’s Throne Speech to promise an increase to social-assistance payments, even though they have ruled out such a change for at least a decade.
Under the newly announced plan, social assistance rates would be increased by $100 a month at a cost of $31.3-million in 2017-18, $53-million in 2018-19 and $52.2-million 2019-20. The Liberals also announced a two-year pilot program offering training and educational supports, including dependent care, transportation and some living supports, for the first 2,000 single parents who sign up. It will cost $31.8-million over two years.
Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell, defending the change in social-assistance programming, said it became clear during the campaign that voters wanted to see changes to the social programs.
In a conference call with journalists, Ms. Stilwell said changing course on social programs was inevitable given the position the Liberals are now in.
“What you’re seeing is exactly what you would expect from a government in the situation that we’re in where we won the election in having the most seats and the most votes, however, not receiving a majority from that result,” Ms. Stillwell said.
BEFORE AND AFTER
The BC Liberals have abruptly reversed course on several key policies as they prepare to present a Throne Speech later this week. Here’s what the government has said about these issues in the past.
The Liberals refused to impose any restrictions on who can donate or how much they can give and instead said their priority was transparency. Earlier this year, the party announced a panel, to be convened after the election, to recommend campaign reforms because Premier Christy Clark said it would be irresponsible for politicians to come up with the rules themselves.
Ms. Clark told The Globe and Mail during an editorial board meeting in May that it would be wrong for politicians to set the rules on their own: “I don’t think politicians should be making these decisions. I don’t think politicians can set aside our own self-interests enough to be able to make sure we make the right decisions.”
The Liberals have previously rejected calls to increase social-assistance rates, which haven’t changed in a decade.
When the government tabled its budget in February, Finance Minister Mike de Jong was asked how he would explain that to someone on social assistance. He said they should be confident that the government was working to find them a job: “That we are anxious to ensure that you have the best opportunity possible to return to what you want to do, which is be part of the work force."
Last week, the Liberals said they would no longer require cities to hold a referendum before imposing any new taxes to pay for public-transit projects.
Previously, Ms. Clark ruled out allowing the mayors to find new ways to raise money without first putting it to a vote, as they did in 2015, when a proposed sales tax increase was voted down. She said such referendums were necessary because Vancouver region’s transit authority, Translink, is an unelected body.
“John Horgan says he wants to give Translink the right to just be able to raise taxes without a referendum. I still disagree with him about that, and I think most British Columbians disagree with him about that.”
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