The BC Liberals and NDP are in a pointed election debate over billions of dollars of campaign promises, with the Liberals accusing the New Democrats of making $6.5-billion in uncosted spending commitments.
That assessment, which candidate Mike de Jong laid out in a format reminiscent of his budget presentations as finance minister, prompted an immediate rebuke from the New Democrats, who insisted the financials behind its platform are sound and accused the Liberals of fear mongering.
Mr. de Jong touted his record managing the province's finances on Wednesday, as he told a news conference that shortfalls in spending for the NDP's program could only be filled with tax hikes on the middle class. He said the platform, released last week, would inevitably lead the province from its current surplus financing back into deficit if the NDP win the May 9 vote.
"For people who are not troubled by retreating back into deficit financing or not troubled by significant tax increases, they may not find anything troubling about this," Mr. de Jong said. "To suggest that all of these things could happen, and there is not a consequence that will ultimately befall the B.C. taxpayer is misleading."
The political criticism came a day ahead of the first official debate in the B.C. election – a radio debate with Liberal Leader Christy Clark, NDP Leader John Horgan and the provincial Green Party's Andrew Weaver.
Ms. Clark has repeatedly attempted to portray the New Democrats as a party of high taxes and big spending, warning – as her party has done in previous elections – that an NDP government would be ruinous for the province's economy. The New Democrats have said they will tax the wealthy as well as real estate speculators to pay for promises that include $10-a-day daycare, building 114,000 housing units over a decade and annual $400 subsidies for renters.
Carole James, the NDP's platform co-chair and incumbent MLA candidate in Victoria, said she was glad to be having the advance debate with the Liberals over the NDP platform, which promises balanced budgets in spite of more than $1-billion worth of new spending in the first year alone.
"I think it is key to the election," Ms. James said in an interview.
While Ms. James said the Liberals lack plans to help make things more affordable for the public, she said the NDP is campaigning on an approach "to make the top 2 per cent and profitable corporations pay more so we can cut costs for the public, so we can fix services and create good-paying jobs."
Mr. Horgan has announced some tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations, and said he would tap a $500-million fund the Liberals created for the liquefied-gas sector.
During his presentation, Mr. de Jong went through provisions in the NDP plan, suggesting, for example, that money from the LNG fund would not be enough to cover the cost of ending tolls on the Lower Mainland Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges as promised by the NDP.
Ms. James said the NDP had tallied the cost of the tolls and would make their plan work.
The Liberals said NDP plans to freeze hydro rates would lead to a $1.2-billion funding gap over four years. The NDP platform says the NDP in power would "freeze BC Hydro rates," but Ms. James said such a freeze would last through 2017 and 2018 while an NDP government assessed the power utility to figure out how to proceed with it.
The Liberals have expressed concerns about the necessity of the NDP's proposal to have the government assume responsibility for the Port Mann bridge in particular – a move that could lead to hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments.
Ms. James said that would be debt that an NDP government would manage over time like all debt. At this point, she said the Liberals are perpetuating a shell game by keeping it off government books.
Liberals also cited problems with NDP plans to freeze ferry rates, enact a postsecondary agenda that includes $1,000 completion grants for students and even cover the likely $8-million cost of an NDP-proposed referendum on a proportional voting system. As voters prepare to go to the polls, the Liberals are running on a platform with about $150-million in new spending commitments that emphasizes job-creation, spending control and tax cuts for the middle class.