Lib­er­als, NDP not so far apart

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

Com­par­ing the NDP bud­get to the B.C. Lib­eral one seven months ear­lier is a con­trast be­tween a gov­ern­ment with ex­pen­sive new plans to help peo­ple and a gov­ern­ment that was, for the most part, stand­ing pat. But com­par­ing this week’s bud­get to the Lib­er­als’ des­per­ate throne speech in June, in which they junked their own bud­get and put bil­lions on the ta­ble in a bid to avoid losing a con­fi­dence vote, is a trick­ier propo­si­tion. Lib­er­als pre­sented two wildly dif­fer­ent fronts in the pre- and post-elec­tion scram­ble.

So fig­ur­ing out how the NDP plan con­trasts with the Lib­eral agenda de­pends en­tirely on which Lib­eral agenda you pick.

The cen­tre­piece of the Fe­bru­ary Lib­eral bud­get – al­most the only news­wor­thy piece – was a 50 per cent cut in MSP pre­mi­ums.

The pre­mi­ums – up to $900 for in­di­vid­u­als, $1,800 for fam­i­lies – were go­ing to be slashed by half, with the goal of elim­i­nat­ing them com­pletely over the long haul.

The NDP bud­get this week out­lines the same 50 per cent cut start­ing on the same date, Jan, 1, 2018. Also com­ing is a re­view of how to make up the re­sult­ing short­fall. The re­lief will cost the trea­sury more than a bil­lion dol­lars, so some tax hikes are in­evitable.

The Lib­er­als’ Fe­bru­ary bud­get also com­mit­ted $740 mil­lion more to ed­u­ca­tion over three years. The as­ter­isk on that prom­ise was that it was vir­tu­ally court-or­dered, af­ter the gov­ern­ment lost the fi­nal Supreme Court of Canada de­ci­sion over the void­ing of teacher con­tracts 15 years ago.

The NDP gov­ern­ment is bound by the same de­ci­sion, but was com­mit­ted to ed­u­ca­tion boosts re­gard­less.

So the new bud­get has $681 mil­lion in new ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing over three years, aimed at hir­ing 3,500 more teach­ers, with the prom­ise of more to come.

Lib­er­als made one other ma­jor spend be­fore their bud­get, promis­ing $900 mil­lion on a hous­ing push.

What hap­pens to that now is un­clear, but the NDP bud­get item­izes $671 mil­lion for hous­ing over the next few years and their tar­gets will re­quire hundreds of mil­lions more.

It’s when you get to the Lib­er­als’ last-gasp throne speech that the

So fig­ur­ing out how the NDP plan con­trasts with the Lib­eral agenda de­pends en­tirely on which Lib­eral agenda you pick.

com­par­isons get stranger. Fac­ing a for­mal NDP-Green cau­cus al­liance that was go­ing to unseat them, the Lib­er­als shed all the con­straints.

They promised a bil­lion for child care and early ed­u­ca­tion over four years.

Even the NDP couldn’t match that this week. They put a scant down pay­ment down on their $10-a-day child care prom­ise, but most of the fund­ing for that is yet to come.

Af­ter freez­ing in­come-as­sis­tance rates for a decade, Lib­er­als abruptly promised in June to hike them by $100 a month.

The NDP matched that and made it im­me­di­ate, so the in­crease will be ar­riv­ing this month. Lib­er­als also poached the NDP prom­ise of a stand-alone men­tal-health min­istry, promis­ing to give it a man­date for in­creased in­vest­ments.

The NDP bud­get puts up $25 mil­lion for the new Min­istry of Men­tal Health and Ad­dic­tions, plus $32 mil­lion more for a po­lice crack­down on drug deal­ers, and more nalox­one train­ing for re­spon­ders.

Lib­er­als in June also caved in and promised to start hik­ing the car­bon tax, another NDP com­mit­ment. The dif­fer­ences on that front are that the NDP sched­ule starts a year ear­lier, and aban­dons rev­enue neu­tral­ity.

Lib­er­als also bor­rowed the ideas of ferry-fare re­duc­tions and elim­i­na­tion of bridge tolls. The NDP have dropped the tolls, but the ferry-fare cuts (on smaller routes) are still to come.

So com­par­ing who was go­ing to do what and when is a mish-mash of shift­ing ideas.

Just So You Know: Re­fer­ring to an NDP prom­ise of a tax credit to first-re­spon­der vol­un­teers, in­terim Lib­eral Leader Rich Cole­man on Tues­day com­plained in the house that it was in the Lib­eral bud­get in Fe­bru­ary, but the NDP are tak­ing credit for it to­day. “Get your own ideas,” he said. That was an amus­ing start on the job of crit­i­ciz­ing a gov­ern­ment that is do­ing a lot of what the Lib­er­als bor­rowed and made their own in their brief Ver­sion 2 ap­pear­ance be­fore they lost power.

LES LEYNE

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