Prudent B.C. Liberal platform puts fiscal restraint over campaign goodies

VANCOUVER – The BC Liberal Party unveiled an election platform Monday that was touted for as much of what it didn’t contain as for what it did, a reflection of the party’s efforts to paint itself as the penny-wise alternative to a high-rolling NDP.

On the eve of the official start of the election campaign, Premier Christy Clark released a 72-page platform with few of the pre-election goodies B.C. voters have come to expect of government.

In their place, Clark promised a government that will balance the budget and focus on debt reduction, including a promise to cap government expenditures and dedicate at minimum 50 per cent of all future budget surpluses to paying down the debt.

“Do we want the economy to grow or do we want government to grow? Do we want taxes to go down? Do we want taxes to go up? Do we want to have a B.C. jobs plan where our kids can work in this province or do we want to have an Alberta jobs plan where people have to leave?” Clark said.

“Those are the choices people will be making when they go to the polls on May 14. And I’m confident that when we’re surrounded by uncertainty and a fragile global economy, British Columbians will choose security over risk.”

A Liberal government would dedicate all revenues from liquefied natural gas and a proposed oil refinery in Kitimat to debt reduction until all provincial debt is eliminated, said Clark. She pointed out that the New Democrats have said they will increase taxes on the LNG industry.

B.C. would be debt-free in 15 years under her stewardship, she said, and the Liberals would tie government spending increases to the rate of nominal GDP. The NDP has said it will have deficit spending, she said.

The premier said her government would recommit to balanced budget legislation, first introduced by her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, in 2001 and amended after the 2009 provincial election to permit two deficit budgets. A Clark Liberal government would strengthen the legislation with tougher penalties for ministers who miss budget targets.

It would also launch a core review of all government ministries — a program first announced by Campbell when he took office in 2001.

The Liberals would freeze personal income taxes and the carbon tax for five years, and reduce the corporate income tax by 40 per cent — to 10 per cent — by 2018.

The Liberals also committed to working with Metro Vancouver councils to find money for transit improvements, and to holding a referendum on those new revenue sources.

The modest goodie bag includes a $250-per-child back-to-school tax credit for parents, a $500 tax credit for teachers who coach or organize arts programs, and a slight increase in tax credits for digital media.

Clark said she presented her entire platform to voters, not “bits and pieces, dribs and drabs” as the New Democrats have done. The NDP has so far held two news conferences to reveal aspects of its fiscal plan, and say the platform will be unfurled during the campaign.

“Their $2-billion borrow, tax and spend plan will put our economy at risk, it will scare away investment, it will scare away jobs and it will do that one unnecessary regulation at a time,” Clark said, repeating an underlying theme of the Liberal campaign.

“We can grow the size of the economy with today’s B.C. Liberals or we can grow the size of government with the NDP.”

A spokesperson for the NDP, which unveiled a five-point plan to grow the provincial forest industry on Monday, was unavailable for comment on the Liberal platform.

Mike de Jong, the finance minister in Clark’s cabinet, said he believes the prudent platform will appeal to the “quiet majority” of British Columbians.

“Is it a multibillion-dollar spending extravaganza? No, it’s not. But British Columbia can’t afford that and I don’t believe British Columbians want their government to embark on that kind of approach,” de Jong said.

The day before releasing the plan, the Liberal Party paid $100,000 to polish Clark’s image with a 30-minute infomercial aimed at selling voters on a fourth term for the struggling Liberals.

Some polls put the New Democrats as much as 20 percentage points ahead of the incumbent Liberals.

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins said it doesn’t matter what the Liberal platform says.

“I think when you look at the Liberal record — whether it’s the deficit projections in the 2009 election, whether it’s the commitment not to sell B.C. Rail, whether it’s the commitment not to introduce the HST — when I look at these commitments today I have to ask myself do I believe them?” Cummins said outside the Liberal news conference in Vancouver.

“I think most British Columbians are going to have a big question marks over those commitments.”

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