A B.C. election primer
Everything you need to know about the issues and promises ahead of the provincial election
When British Columbians head to the polls for next week's election, they'll be armed with a host of platform promises from the major parties, ranging from a sweeping remake of the province's child-care system to smaller, targeted proposals designed to pick up votes from key groups. Here's what you need to know about where the parties stand on the campaign's most important issues.
Liberals: The party had already put in place its housing strategies and isn't promising anything more. They include a 15-per-cent foreign buyers' tax on purchases, a new program of interest-free loans of up to $37,500 for first-time home buyers, and a commitment of about $1-billion overall toward building affordable rentals around the province, which housing groups say would mean $133-million a year for the next three years on top of what's already been committed. The Premier and her ministers have also said repeatedly that they want to get municipalities to cut down on waiting times for building permits, in order to speed up supply, and to increase density around transit. The specifics on that are vague.
NDP: The party says it would use government money and partnerships with cities and non-profits to create 11,400 new units of affordable housing a year for 10 years – the amount the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association says is needed. The NDP is also promising a $400-a-year grant to renters to give them something equal to the homeowner grant, and more protections for renters under the law, including the removal of the current "fixed-term lease" provision. On the demand side, the NDP has said it would introduce a "yearly absentee speculators' tax" of two per cent (details unclear) and more attention paid to closing loopholes for speculators, money laundering and fraud. (Again, no specifics.)
Green Party: The most aggressive approach on the demand side, with a promise of a 30-per-cent foreign buyers tax that would apply to the whole province. As well, the party says it would introduce a speculation tax, plus a capital-gains tax for sellers who flip properties in less than five years.
On top of that, the party adds a progressive surtax on property that is payable if owners can't show rental income or B.C. income tax paid and a homeowner grant that disappears faster for expensive properties than currently. On the supply side, the party has promised $750-million a year for government-subsidized affordable housing.
Liberals: The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show B.C. led most other jurisdictions in GDP growth last year with a rate of 3.7 per cent – second only to Yukon. The province has among the lowest unemployment rates in the country, at 5.5 per cent for April, and has also recently led job growth.
But that performance has not been felt everywhere. The Vancouver region and Vancouver Island both saw increases in employment in 2016, compared with 2015, but every other area of the province actually lost jobs. Unemployment was as high as 9.7 per cent in the province's north. While most of the growth in the past several years has been in full-time jobs, a recent CIBC report found the province had the highest increase in the proportion of jobs with below-average wages, now at 60 per cent.
The Liberals say they will invest $87-million in the tech sector and put B.C. tech and business first in line for government contracts.
NDP: The NDP would increase B.C.'s minimum wage to $15 per hour. The party has also pledged to create 96,000 construction jobs by building schools, hospitals, roads and rapid transit.
The NDP would recruit a chief talent officer for the tech sector, contribute $100-million to tech-related postsecondary programs and provide investment tax credits to local software developers.
The NDP says it will expand apprenticeship and trades training programs, double the province's investment in the B.C. Arts Council and expand B.C.'s film labour tax credit to include B.C. writers. It will also cut the small-business tax rate by half a per cent.
Green Party: The Greens want to create a Fair Wages Commission to establish the minimum wage and phase in a basic-income plan for people 18-24 who are aging out of foster care. For people with disabilities, the Greens have promised a 10-per-cent increase to disability assistance rates by this October and that rates will be 50 per cent more than what they are now by 2020. The Greens would also provide a benefit of up to $205 per month for low-income families.
For students, the Greens would invest $65-million over four years to support co-op and work-experience programs for high-school and undergraduate students. For workers, they would invest $10-million per year for in-service job training at small and medium enterprises, as well as retraining for people who have been displaced by automation or market changes.
The party says it would earmark $20-million per year to support mentoring and networking at postsecondary institutions and $70-million over four years to support entrepreneurs.
Liberals: The most dramatic promise in the budget that was tabled in February, but not passed into law, was changes to Medical Service Plan premiums, but otherwise the Liberals are proposing a largely stand-pat tax regime.
The Liberals promise to maintain the carbon-tax freeze until 2021, while other provinces catch up. Last December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a historic climate-change accord that requires all provinces to set a price on carbon at a rate of $50 per tonne by 2022.
The Liberals would also cut the small-business tax rate to 2 per cent and eliminate the provincial sales tax on electricity for business. Until Monday, the Liberals were open to a business proposal to trade the PST for a made-in-B.C. Value Added Tax but Ms. Clark now says that will not happen.
NDP: Leader John Horgan has made commitments to eliminate the MSP and freeze other service fees such as BC Hydro, but will send the details to a review if his party forms the next government.
To pay for new programs, the NDP platform proposes to increase government revenues by $530-million in the current fiscal year and of that, roughly 60 per cent would come from tax increases. (The balance would come from emptying the Liberal's Prosperity Fund, and projected increases in economic growth.)
Under the NDP, personal income taxes would be raised for individuals with incomes more than $150,000 – undoing a tax cut that was introduced by the Liberal government. The corporate income-tax rate would climb from 11 per cent to 12 per cent, which would bring B.C. on par with the other western provinces. The carbon tax would rise in step with federally mandated increases and the small-business tax rate would be cut to 2 per cent.
Green Party: The Greens would establish a working group to develop proposals to overhaul the tax system, but there are some specifics in the platform.
The Greens would increase the share of tax contributed by those earning more than $108,460 per year by 1 per cent in the current fiscal year, and that would rise to a 3-per-cent increase by 2020.
They would make the property transfer tax more progressive, and introduce a speculation tax on property sales. Like the NDP, they would raise the corporate tax rate to 12 per cent. The carbon tax would rise under the Greens by $10 per tonne each year for four years, starting in 2018. As well, the carbon tax would be applied more broadly, to capture fugitive emissions from natural-gas extraction, and slash-pile burning in forestry.
Liberals: MSP premiums, which brought in $2.4-billion to government last year, have doubled since the party came to power in 2001. Now, the Liberals say they would reduce MSP rates for middle-income earners. Starting in January, 2018, the Liberals would cut the MSP in half for about two million B.C. residents with household incomes of l-ess than $120,000 and phase it out entirely at some undetermined date.
B.C. is the only province to charge flatrate health-care premiums.
NDP: The NDP says it would slash the MSP by half, as outlined in the existing 2017 budget, and eliminate it completely within four years, saving families as much as $1,800 a year. A non-partisan MSP elimination panel would be struck to determine how to pay for the plan, according to the party's platform.
Green Party: The Greens say they would eliminate the premiums and roll them into the payroll and income-tax systems so the payments are progressive, following a model used in Ontario.
This year's campaign comes in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision in November, 2016 that required the province to restore class-size and composition language stripped from teachers' contracts in 2002. That ruling is estimated to result in up to 3,000 teachers and education specialists being hired over the coming months. But thorny issues remain, ranging from the pace of seismic upgrades to funding concerns.
Liberals: The Liberals have pledged $2-billion in capital spending over next three years for K-12. It would also attempt to strike another long-term contract with the B.C. Teachers' Federation (the current, six-year deal expires June 30, 2019) and review the funding formula for school districts. The party says it would invest $2-billion in postsecondary institutions, lower interest rates on student loans and keep a 2-per-cent cap on tuition and fee increases.
NDP: The NDP would provide the K-12 system with $30-million per year for school supplies, create an ongoing capital fund for school playgrounds and review the funding formula for school districts. For the postsecondary system, the party would provide $50-million over two years for a new graduate scholarship and $100-million to expand technology-related postsecondary programs. It would also eliminate interest on student loans, maintain a cap on tuition fees and eliminate fees for adult basic education and English as a Second Language courses.
Greens: For K-12, the Greens promise to increase funding, starting with $250-million and rising to $1.5-billion over four years. They would also invest $140-million over three years to train teachers to deliver B.C.'s revamped curriculum and review the funding formula. In postsecondary, the party would offer needs-based grants for students, tax breaks for graduates with tuition-fee debt and $65-million over four years for co-op and work experience programs. $10-million per year would go to restoring adult secondary education and English as a Second Language.
Liberals: The Liberals support expanding the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline as long as it meets their so-called five conditions, that focus on environmental protection. The Liberals also support constructing the Site C Dam.
B.C. was an early adopter of the carbon tax back in 2007, but it has been frozen at $30 per tonne since 2012. The Liberals would continue that carbon-tax freeze until 2021. The party has conceded that the province will fall short of its goal of reducing emissions by 33 per cent below 2007 levels by the end of 2020.
NDP: The NDP stands opposed to twinning the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline that transports bitumen from Alberta to port in Burnaby and has vowed to fight it, despite its approval. Mr. Horgan has said he's going to review the Site C Dam construction and will make a decision after the election.
The NDP would phase in increases in the carbon tax, starting with $6 per tonne in 2020, $7 a tonne in 2021 and $8 in 2022. The party would also expand rebates on the carbon tax for low and middle-income families. It would also introduce stricter reduction targets in greenhouse-gas emissions. The NDP wants B.C. to be 40 per cent below its 2007 emission levels by 2030.
The party would abolish the grizzly bear trophy hunt.
Green Party: The Greens are against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and against building the Site C Dam. The party would increase the carbon tax even sooner than the NDP and puts more emphasis on research into climate change and being prepared for its effects.
They want to increase the carbon tax $10 per year per tonne for four years starting in 2018 and have pledged to contribute $120-million over four years to research, develop and commercialize climate-friendly technologies. They would also provide $20-million per year to support businesses who adopt green technologies.
The Green Party would devote $31-million to fund climate-adaptation initiatives such as mapping and modelling, emergency preparedness planning for government agencies and resilience strategies for communities among those. Another $29-million would go to enhancing scientific understanding of how climate-change impacts B.C.
B.C's "wild west" political finance system has come under scrutiny in the past year, particularly after a Globe and Mail investigation found lobbyists and others had donated in their own names using money from corporations they represent. The revelations sparked an RCMP investigation and prompted the Liberals and the NDP to return improper donations. The Liberals have returned nearly $250,000 in donations dating back to 2010, while the New Democrats returned $11,000.
Liberals: Last year, the party brought in about $13-million, more than half from corporate donors. Party Leader Christy Clark had previously rejected calls to impose limits on donations or to ban contributions from corporations and unions, instead insisting on greater transparency as the answer. In March, she promised to appoint an independent panel after the election to make recommendations for change, but she's not said what system she would prefer. She's also said the panel would be barred from making any recommendations that involve public subsidies for political parties.
NDP: The NDP has promised to ban corporate and union donations, and to review donation limits. Last year, the NDP raised $6.2-million.
Green Party: Like the NDP, the Greens promise to ban both corporate and union donations – and have already stopped taking such contributions. The party says it would set limits in line with federal rules, which caps individual donations at $1,550 a year. The Greens would also ban contributions from anyone living outside B.C.
Liberals: The Liberals responded to B.C.'s worst overdose crisis on record by declaring a public health emergency; ramping up access to opioid-substitution drugs such as Suboxone and methadone and establishing the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, which is guiding the province's response. They have also funded a harm-reduction program that has distributed more than 35,000 naloxone kits across the province since January, 2016. Their boldest initiative may have been spontaneously opening 20 "overdose prevention sites" – essentially small-scale supervised injection sites, without the required federal approval – as an emergency response.
NDP: The NDP says it would create a ministry dedicated to mental health and addictions to give the issues the attention they deserve and "put a voice at the cabinet table." It would also emphasize early childhood intervention by increasing supports in schools, and increase all income assistance rates by $100 per month. Further, the party has pledged to license recovery homes, provide more support to police efforts to disrupt the supply chain and reopen facilities at Riverview Hospital, a shuttered mental-health institution. The platform includes $35-million over three years to increase general supports for mental health and addictions.
Green Party: Like the NDP, the Greens would also create a ministry dedicated to mental health and addictions and focus on early childhood interventions, creating a Youth Mental Health Strategy for early detection of mental-health issues. The party would allocate $80-million over three years to early intervention and related initiatives, as well as $4-billion over four years to the public-education system, in part to hire specialty teachers and support staff. The Green Party is the only party that has committed outright to expanding a prescription heroin program that in part addresses the pressing issue of the toxic drugs washing across the province, and Andrew Weaver is the only major party leader who has voiced support for the decriminalization of drugs.
Liberals: After months of saying no, TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender made an announcement just before the election campaign started, saying the Liberals would match the federal government's $2.2-billion in transit funding rather than just providing the usual one-third of capital costs, which would have been $400-million less. But the Liberals have reminded mayors they will still need to hold a referendum if they want a new funding source for the regional share of the transit plan – something mayors say puts the federal money in jeopardy. The party promised early in the campaign to cap bridge tolls at $500 a year for users and it is forging ahead with plans to build the 10-lane Massey Bridge over the Fraser River between Delta and Richmond.
NDP: The NDP has promised to get rid of all current tolls on bridges. Mr. Horgan insists it's unfair that south-of-Fraser commuters have to pay to get to work while others in the province get roads and bridges for free. That makes it unclear what the NDP would support as regional mayors' push for mobility pricing, which means getting drivers to pay in some way for their use of roads. Mr. Horgan says repeatedly that the party will pay 40 per cent of all capital costs for new transit in the region and that it will work with mayors on the ongoing problem of how the region will pay for its share. He has said he would defer to mayors when it comes to the Massey Bridge project, which they oppose, but hasn't said anything about suspending work immediately.
Green Party: Mr. Weaver says he is not planning to cap or eliminate tolls. Greens will work with mayors to "develop and implement a rational tolling system to manage congestion" and will "look at" tools like mobility pricing to manage congestion – the mechanism local mayors say the region should move to. The party would provide provincial money to match the federal government's $2.2-billion commitment to transit improvement and add another $25-million a year just to help with affordability and service frequency. The Greens would instantly suspend work on the Massey Bridge.
The U.S. imposed duties of nearly 20 per cent against Canadian softwood lumber exports in April. The cross-border lumber fight is in its fifth round of trade litigation since 1982. B.C. accounts for 60 per cent of Canada's softwood exports to the U.S. Last year, B.C. sold $4.6-billion worth of softwood – spruce, pine and fir used primarily for framing in construction – to the U.S.
Liberals: In late April, Ms. Clark asked the federal government to ban the shipment of thermal coal through B.C. ports in retaliation for the U.S. duties, saying B.C. would act on its own and impose a hefty tax if Ottawa didn't act. (Most of the thermal coal shipped through B.C. ports is mined in the U.S., although some is mined in Alberta.) Ms. Clark has said she would visit Washington to promote B.C.'s interests.
NDP: Mr. Horgan, too, has pledged to travel to Washington. The NDP platform calls for processing more logs in B.C. and expanded investments in reforestation. Mr. Horgan would not say if an NDP government would impose Ms. Clark's thermal-coal levy.
Green Party: The party proposes several forestry-related measures, including curbs on raw log exports, protection of old-growth forests and steps to encourage value-added processing.
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