It takes nerve to raise Canada’s only dedicated medical care tax year after year until it’s doubled, then promise to cut it by half after you’re re-elected.
There’s brass and then there’s BC Liberal brass. Christy Clark is billing her government’s great Medical Services Plan retreat as a “billion-dollar tax cut for the middle class.” Yes, that’s straight from Justin Trudeau’s talking points memo, and it’s misleading in that many MSP premiums are paid by employers.
Clark was the first leader in this election to present the entire party platform, complete with briefing led by Finance Minister Mike de Jong beforehand. Reporters were surprised by the almost complete lack of news. It was the February budget all over again, with a sprinkling of new tax credits for seniors’ renovations and the like.
The MSP premium cut, interest-free second mortgages, the introduction of Uber-style ride sharing, building another humungous bridge to replace the George Massey Tunnel, a new hydro dam; all main platform planks are well known. The biggest news was a promise of four more balanced budgets.
The BC Liberal dynasty is large and in charge, and these projects are already rolling. As they used to say on Star Trek, resistance is futile.
In 2013 it was 100,000 LNG jobs in a Debt-Free B.C. This time the campaign bus slogan is notably Debt-Free-free. Clark points to nation-leading employment and economic statistics and essentially asks, what more could you want?
That prosperity, driven by real estate and technology that governments mostly pretend to direct, has allowed the Clark government to dampen down some hot fires.
The BC Liberal platform assures us that to “maintain our world-leading K-12 system,” the government is “reviewing the funding formula for school districts.” Damn right they are, as ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada.
But the money is there to do what the court ordered, and under relatively calm leadership the teachers’ union isn’t likely to be much of a factor in this election. Same goes for other public sector unions, which have accepted the small share of economic growth and climbed down from the barricades they shared with the NDP in earlier elections.
Even the carbon tax has come up roses for Clark. She’s the only premier in Canada who can proudly announce a carbon tax “freeze,” while all the other ones have to pile them on to catch up. Of course B.C.’s carbon tax has been frozen since Clark became premier five years ago, and she’s supposed to be in favour of carbon taxes, but whatever.
The NDP plan on carbon tax is an interesting departure. NDP leader John Horgan released his complete platform late last week, and it calls for $10-a-tonne increases in the tax on fuels to begin in two years. That’s two years earlier than the federal government mandate for the provinces. Clark wants to continue the “freeze” until other provinces have caught up.
The NDP platform counts each carbon tax increase as revenue to pay for its programs, including fuel-saving initiatives such as transit and upgrading buildings. That means no more offsetting cuts to income taxes.
The difference between the two parties on MSP premiums is now so narrow as to make no difference. After cutting the tax by half in 2018, the BC Liberals propose to hold consultations on how to replace the remaining revenue.
The NDP platform promises to get rid of MSP within four years. Regardless of who wins, this billion-dollar health care injection will mostly end up on your income tax.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @tomfletcherbc