The BC Liberals unveiled their entire party platform today in Vancouver, titled Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow. The 94 page document maintains their main message that the BC Liberals are competent fiscal managers while the BC NDP would increase government, spend recklessly, grow debt and raise taxes. Rather than only promote the BC Liberal vision for the province, the platform also contrasts their vision with what the BC Liberals believe the NDP would do if they win the next election, and what the NDP did while in power in the 1990s.
The platform consists of five themes including:
1. BC Jobs Plan protecting our future
2. Modernizing education and skills training
3. Building a Safe, Clean, Healthy and Affordable BC
4. Controlling spending and balancing the budget
5. Our plan for a Debt-Free BC
The platform’s fiscal plan is based on the February budget, and if re-elected the BC Liberals will re-introduce the same budget with minor changes to incorporate new promises in their platform. Unlike many elections where platforms are full of new promises, programs and initiatives, the BC Liberal platform continues their austerity themes from the Speech from the Throne and Budget. In fact, they have planned their platform commitments to cost only $5.2M this fiscal year, $27.5M next year but rising to $166.6M in the third year.
New announcements of note under the Jobs Plan theme include the promise to create an organization designed to attract major Asian companies to BC with the goal to attract five North American head offices to BC by 2020. The BC Liberals will also create a new Minister of Natural Gas Development, an LNG secretariat and commence discussions about new revenue sharing agreements with rural communities.
Most of the platform focusses on existing BC Liberal policies regarding resource development. For example, the BC Liberals promise to continue to press Alberta, Ottawa and the private sector to accept BC’s five conditions for heavy oil proposals, complete a marine shipping study to determine the safety resources needed, press Ottawa for resources to protect the coast and to commit Coast Guard resources to Vancouver following the Kitsilano base closure. The BC Liberals will also continue to encourage and support David Black’s proposed Kitimat refinery. A freeze on personal income tax rates and the carbon tax for five years is also proposed.
For transit in the Lower Mainland, the BC Liberals promise to work with Metro Vancouver to identity new sources of TransLink funding which would then be subject to a referendum during the 2014 municipal elections. This is in response to the controversy regarding Evergreen line funding, which required heavy provincial involvement to ensure the municipalities would agree to a financial commitment to build the infrastructure. A new fiscal arrangement is likely needed before TransLink would begin to consider new lines to UBC or other parts of Surrey. The platform also commits up to $1B of potential LNG revenues to pay off debt from BC Ferries, BC Hydro and the Port Mann Bridge.
Regarding film incentive tax policy, the BC Liberals rejected the BC NDP proposal to further increase tax credits, noting their government had increased film tax credits several times in the past 12 years. Instead, they proposed to work with Ontario and Quebec to establish a national incentive policy so provinces would stop undercutting each other, establish a BC Film office in Los Angeles, apply the rural film tax credit to Victoria, and increase digital animation tax credit rates.
BC’s Small Business Venture Capital Program would be expanded by $5 million in 2015/16. To improve the small business climate, the BC Liberals pledge to lower the small business tax rate from 2.5% to 1.5% in 2017/18, streamline the government procurement process, and limit RFPs under $250K to two pages in order to allow small businesses to compete.
New announcements of note for education and skills training include a promise to extend the cap on tuition fee increases at two per cent and to provide some high-use textbooks to university and college students for free. They also promised an extra $10M for funding for skills training, which continues the BC Liberal focus on trades. Loan forgiveness for out-of-province medical graduates will also be instituted to recruit more doctors.
Media and BC NDP Reaction
The provincial media have been balanced in the early coverage of the platform, pointing out that most of the commitments within it are not new. They note it is a continuation of past BC Liberal policies but some are suggesting the debt reduction commitments are out of step with the 50 per cent debt increase that Christy Clark will preside over if she is re-elected to enact her three-year budget plan.
The opposition NDP have released only muted criticisms of the BC Liberal platform so far, pointing out the commitment to drop the small business tax rate is actually a broken promise from their 2009 election platform to eliminate it completely by 2012. They also point out the irony in the BC Liberal promise of a debt-free BC given that the BC Liberal government has increased BC debt levels significantly. Once again, they have expressed skepticism at the BC Liberal reliance on LNG revenues arguing that while the industry has potential it is unlikely to be the “cure all” for the province.