Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Comparing the Liberal and NDP platforms

Plow through the Liberal and NDP platforms and you will find a surprising amount in common.
For starters, both agree the other guys are incompetent.
And at least based on their platforms, both parties would be cautious and steady. But an issue for both Gordon Campbell and Carole James is whether they can be trusted to deliver.
There are differences. The campaign's opening days were dominated by the New Democrat's promise to abolish the Liberals' carbon tax. A lot of environmentalists, who might have considered themselves NDP voters, are troubled by the pledge.
Rightly. The tax isn't perfect, but it is sound policy. A tax on fossil fuels will reduce use and curb greenhouse gas emissions. Both parties support that goal.
The New Democrats have also pledged to raise the minimum wage, from $8 - soon to be tied for the lowest in Canada - to $10. The increase is significant. But the Campbell government hasn't raised the minimum once in the last eight years (while raising MLAs' pay by 35 per cent). It comes across as at best indifference.
The Liberals' platform basically promises to keep on the same course.
That's as it should be. A governing party that pulls out a whole of whack of new initiatives for an election campaign is negligent. If they were good programs, they should have been introduced already.
So the Liberal platform talks about the importance of a stable, tested government. It promises to follow through with infrastructure spending and curb government spending - 11 of 20 ministries face budget cuts.
Health gets a significant increase, but that's about it.
The focus is on tailoring spending to fit the money coming into government. Two deficits and then back to a balanced budget - that's the law.
And it's a worry. The budget introduced last February is optimistic about government revenue.
That should make voters wonder about the Liberals' priorities. Are balanced budgets within two years more important than maintaining vital public services? (Even Stephen Harper thinks four years of deficits are needed federally.)
Put another way, will this be the Grinch-like Liberals of the first term, or the genial Campbell of the second?
The platform does offer some new measures. Proposals for kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds have been shelved, although the Liberals have committed to bring in optional full-day kindergarten for five-year-olds. A school curriculum review and greater emphasis on personal health and financial planning are promised.
The Liberals promise more community courts and money to fly offenders back to other provinces to face outstanding warrants.
But largely, this is a platform based on tightening belts and shrinking government.
The New Democrats' platform offers more new initiatives. It promises four new specialized day surgery centres, 300 additional addiction and mental health treatment spaces and 3,000 new long-term care beds for seniors.
The NDP also commits to a five-year plan to end the homelessness crisis, with budgets and timelines and targets, including 2,400 new social housing units in the first year.
It pledges to sharply limit raw log exports, take a hard look at run-of-river power projects and force aquaculture operations to shift to closed containment systems. All the measures carry some economic risks.
And the party proposes fixing the lobbyist legislation, establishing a Community and Jobs Protection Commissioner and a Seniors Advocate.
The proposals are all costed; the result, says the platform, would be three years of deficits before returning to balanced budgets.
A problem for both parties is that the budget starting point is the three-year plan the Liberals presented in February. That was optimistic about revenues and stingy in spending projections.
Which leads back to the credibility question. If tough times continue, would the Liberals choose to slash services over of running deficits? Would the NDP stick with a moderate course, or spend freely despite an increasing debt.
The platforms are useful guides, but far frm binding.
Footnote: The platforms are available online - see, and The Green platform, in my view, is interesting but of little real relevance. The party's chances of electing an MLA are slim, especially under the current electoral system. Green supporters would best use their time supporting the STV campaign.


Gazetteer said...

"..... Are balanced budgets within two years more important than maintaining vital public services?...."I think this is a critical question that British Columbians, those that are not sheep anyway, need to ask themselves.

Or, put to put the question another way..... Given the current economic climate and budget deficit, if he is re-elected will we get a kinder, gentler, stay-the-course Gordon Campbell v.3.0 or will we he revert to an even tougher slasher and burner than he was in 2001 (ie. Gordon Campbell v.1.1)?


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