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Liberal platform leaves a lot of questions

VICTORIA – The B.C. Liberal Party deserves credit for releasing its policy book in full on the eve of the formal election campaign.

That’s about the only positive thing to be said about it.

For those who take the time to read party leader Christy Clark’s 40-page booklet, there are a few nuggets of news. For instance, a re-elected B.C. Liberal government would continue its justice reform agenda by moving traffic ticket disputes out of courtrooms, as they did with impaired driving cases.

Most of it consists of glowing descriptions of the government’s 12-year record, and attacks on the NDP of the kind that are not normally seen in a platform. This is consistent with Clark’s style since she was anointed party leader two years ago.

The main focus, as revealed in February’s throne speech, is a plan to pay off B.C.’s growing debt and perhaps even get rid of the provincial sales tax with an Alberta-style “prosperity fund” from liquefied natural gas exports.

Whether this is from imposing a new export tax on LNG or simply from a windfall of gas royalties is not clear. Clark and her energy minister contradicted each other on that when it was announced, and the platform doesn’t shed any new light. All we have is a big logo on the side of Clark’s campagn bus declaring “DEBT FREE B.C.”

As I’ve written before, there is plenty of real evidence of a huge new LNG industry in the making. As for paying off the $60 billion debt that the B.C. Liberals’ pre-election budget predicts will keep growing, cartoonist Adrian Raeside summed it up best: LNG revenues are “Christy Clark’s invisible friend.”

Clark finished up last week with stops in Terrace and Prince Rupert, promising an LNG windfall for local governments as well. She repeated the platform’s attack line that the NDP are going to wreck the trillion-dollar LNG boom with a Quebec-style moratorium on “fracking” to extract gas from deep shale formations.

That’s not an outright lie, but it’s almost as speculative as Clark’s notions of a 30-year windfall that could at best barely start during the next four-year term.

The NDP are not calling for a moratorium on natural gas production. They’re calling for yet another “review,” one of many vague, wobbly positions that have been adopted by both dominant parties.

An earlier premier named Glen Clark became famous for “freezing” things like ferry fares and car insurance rates. Now Christy Clark is “freezing” personal income tax rates for five years, and carbon tax rates too. That implies she’s planning to win this election and the next one, at a time when it is unclear whether she can even hold her own seat in Vancouver-Point Grey.

The B.C. Liberals will cut small business taxes by a point, some time in the next five years. They will also increase income tax on large businesses and personal income of more than $150,000, but that’s not mentioned in their platform, since it goes against 12 years of their policy as a government.

• A clarification of last week’s column on the B.C. Conservative platform. Leader John Cummins informs me his plan to phase out the carbon tax does not include reversing the personal and business income tax rate reductions that were legislated as the fuel tax reached its current level.

The platform asserts that total provincial revenues will continue to rise in the next four years, despite the uncompensated loss of $1 billion from the carbon tax.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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