BC Liberal Leader Christy Clark has launched the 41st general election in British Columbia, laying out a simple campaign theme that she is counting on voters to favour on May 9 – that only her party will keep the province's economy strong and job opportunities growing.
But New Democratic Party Leader John Horgan set out a different menu, saying Ms. Clark has broken the public's trust, and it will take an NDP government to make life more affordable for British Columbians who have not prospered under 16 years of Liberal rule.
In addition to those two competing messages, voters also will be looking at a third choice that could play an upset role in the election: the BC Greens. Party leader Andrew Weaver used the first day of the campaign to outline an affordable-housing plan – just one plank in an ambitious agenda to expand his caucus of one.
But his main theme is to "do politics differently," an appeal aimed at voters who feel disenchanted with both of the province's main political parties.
Ms. Clark formally started the campaign on Tuesday morning with the traditional visit to Government House, where she asked Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon to dissolve Parliament.
She then briefly met reporters outside to deliver her core message: The Liberals have given B.C. a healthy economy but need another term in office to keep it on track.
Her platform promises to continue to control government spending, balance the budget and promote economic development.
"British Columbia is just getting on a roll," she said. "Let's stay strong."
It's a similar message to the one that she delivered every single day in the last campaign, and with B.C. posting relatively strong economic growth this year and leading the country in job creation, she will say at every campaign stop that her jobs plan is working.
The Liberals have won the past four elections in B.C. and Ms. Clark's first campaign stop was a rally on southern Vancouver Island where the New Democrats have traditionally held most seats.
There, surrounded by her local candidates and with picturesque Elk Lake in the background, she touched on her primary attack on the NDP as a party that is opposed to resource development including the Kinder Morgan oil-pipeline expansion and her own megaproject, the Site C dam, that is under construction in the northeast corner of the province.
Voters "want a party that cares about jobs," she said. "Let's make sure we create jobs because you know this: You don't create jobs by saying no to everything."
Mr. Horgan began the campaign reminding voters of his commitment to cut fees and restore public services if voters elect his party to power for the first time since 1996.
In that 1996 election, the NDP successfully crafted a "class war" campaign that cast the Liberals as the party of the elites, and the NDP as the champions of the working class.
In this campaign, Mr. Horgan appears to be aiming for a similar dynamic. The wealthy, he says, have had their premier in Ms. Clark.
"It is time we had a premier that was working for you."
The NDP promises include a program of $10-a-day daycare modelled to some degree on a program in Quebec, the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums, a freeze on hydro rates and the elimination of tolls on two key bridges in the Lower Mainland.
He is promising to consult more closely with Lower Mainland mayors to improve transit in the most populous region of British Columbia.
There were no details Tuesday on how an NDP government would pay for such commitments, and whether it would run deficits to pay for them.
Mr. Horgan said the details will come in a platform announcement on Thursday and that will help set the tone for the rest of the campaign.
For now, Ms. Clark freely states that the NDP's spending promises would lead to tax hikes that "would push B.C. families to the brink."
At his first campaign stop, Mr. Horgan was positioned like a talk-show host, among an audience of NDP candidates and members of the public who asked him about various issues. Mr. Horgan, wearing a suit and dress shirt but no tie, spoke without notes, cheerfully interacting with toddlers and babies held by their parents. "Christy Clark's choices have added costs to you, and reduced services for you," he told the crowd.
Although Ms. Clark will take credit for the growing economy, the expansion could help the New Democrats by allowing more room for spending promises.
Economist Bryan Yu of Central 1 Credit Union said Tuesday the fundamentals of B.C.'s economy are favourable.
He expects growth this year of 2.3 per cent, which is less than last year, but some of the regional imbalances have eased in recent months.
"There is diverse growth in the economy," he noted.
Although the employment picture is strong, he added, residents in large urban centres are feeling the pressure of a housing market that has made both rental and home ownership unaffordable for many.
A brief look at the three party leaders
B.C.'s election campaign will largely focus on two front runners: Liberal Leader Christy Clark, who is seeking a fifth term for her party, and NDP Leader John Horgan, who will be searching for at least 10 new seats to return the New Democrats to power after 16 years. The third-place Greens will be seeking to add to their lone seat in the legislature – currently held by Leader Andrew Weaver – and could bleed support from the other parties, notably the New Democrats.
Here is a brief look at the three party leaders:
Born: Oct. 29, 1965, in Burnaby, B.C.
Education: Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Universite de la Sorbonne in Paris.
Family: She is separated from ex-husband Mark Marissen, a former senior strategist for the Liberal Party of Canada.
Her son, Hamish Marissen-Clark, is 15 years old. They have a female cat named Kevin.
Political career: Ms. Clark was first elected in 1996 and was named both deputy premier and education minister in 2001. She became Premier in 2011.
Personal career: While on hiatus from politics, Clark hosted a radio talk show on CKNW between 2007 and 2010.
Born: Nov. 16, 1961, in Victoria
Education: Bachelor of science in mathematics and physics from the University of Victoria in 1983, a masters in advanced studies in mathematics from Cambridge University in 1984, and a PhD in applied mathematics from the University of British Columbia in 1987.
Academic career: Weaver was a lead author on four scientific assessments by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body that shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.
He has been a University of Victoria professor for 20 years and has authored or co-authored over 200 peer-reviewed papers.
Political career: Mr. Weaver says former party leader Jane Sterk asked him to run three times before he agreed.
In 2013, he became the first Green elected to B.C.'s legislature and in 2015 he won the leadership.
Current riding: Oak Bay-Gordon Head
Family: Married wife Ellie in 1984; two grown sons, Nate and Evan.
Career: A former backroom NDP strategist from southern Vancouver Island. He was acclaimed party leader on May 1, 2014.
Riding: Juan de Fuca
Lives in: Langford
The Canadian Press