For months, B.C. was a model of non-partisan coronavirus co-operation, with Premier John Horgan yielding the microphone to Dr. Bonnie Henry, even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other premiers were on TV daily.
MLAs in the B.C. legislature did their grim duty quickly and unanimously in March, borrowing $5 billion and leaving it to the NDP minority government to disperse it as the province’s economic health rapidly declined. NDP health minister Adrian Dix frequently worked with B.C. Liberal critic Norm Letnick on the pandemic, as well as reform of medical professions and other public needs.
Then came the summer-long delay in tourism and small business relief, held back by Horgan until days before the election call. The delay means its modest assistance to the hardest-hit businesses would not arrive until 2021. That and the surprise timing of the election itself have been Horgan’s biggest political problems as he tries to gain a majority in the pandemic.
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson had been warning of a snap election since August. When it came, his response was an echo of the 2001 party under Gordon Campbell, which won a huge majority and cut personal income taxes 25 per cent. Wilkinson wants to jump-start business recovery and consumer spending with a one-year suspension of the provincial sales tax, and a reduced rate the next year that would put the province billions further in debt.
“This is like a wartime economy where a quarter of businesses might close in a year,” Wilkinson said in the leaders’ TV debate Oct. 13.
Horgan responded to the sales tax cut with a promise to send out another round of payments of up to $1,000 to all but the highest-earning families and $500 to individuals, whether they have lost income or not. Horgan acknowledged later the promised cash payments were added to the platform late, as a direct response to Wilkinson’s PST cut proposal.
In debates and campaign stops, Horgan has emphasized Dix’s work in upgrading the understaffed seniors’ long-term care network. His frequent criticism of the B.C. Liberals refers to an NDP law that stopped “contract flipping” by care home owners to renegotiate union contracts, mostly with the Hospital Employees’ Union. Horgan regularly refers to 10,000 mainly female care aides “fired” (and mostly rehired) under the B.C. Liberals. The pandemic has prompted the NDP to raise care aide wages to union levels and eliminate multi-site work, earning national praise for it.
B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau’s platform described the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to move toward a guaranteed income, and broader early childhood education and non-profit rental housing. Its small business recovery plan includes the same size fund as the NDP crisis grants, $300 million, put toward subsidizing business rents.
B.C. Liberal platform highlights:
• In the first 60 days, eliminate PST for a year, start review of regulations and ban elections during states of emergency
• implement province-wide framework for hybrid and online learning options and promote distance learning programs
• Set up a pandemic response committee with all party participation, and an independent review of senior care homes’ response to COVID-19
B.C. NDP platform highlights:
• The NDP platform promises to make its restaurant relief measures permanent, including beer, wine and liquor at wholesale prices, liquor delivery with takeout, and expanded patios
• A second round of COVID-19 emergency payments, up to $1,000 per family or $500 per single person
• “Fast-track” improvements to online and remote learning in B.C. schools
B.C. Greens platform highlights:
• keep school district funding at current levels even as enrolment declines due to COVID-19
• $24 million in new funding for school counsellors to support student mental health
• $300 million to cover up to 25 per cent of rental costs for small business for six months