Tom Fletcher: The shape of an NDP government

Last week’s column looked at whether the B.C. NDP would embrace the current Canadian political fashion of attempting to borrow and spend the province into prosperity.

I suspect they will, but that’s part of an election platform that won’t likely be revealed too far in advance of the May 2017 election. Financial conditions can change drastically at any time.

But there’s a clear record of what John Horgan’s NDP is committed to, and it’s contained in a series of private members’ bills tabled in the legislature by Horgan and other NDP MLAs this year.

You likely didn’t hear much about these, because opposition legislation is typically dead on arrival. If a majority government likes an opposition idea, it will introduce its own legislation or cabinet order rather than allow opponents to claim credit.

This happened recently with a new requirement for school districts to test their drinking water to see if it meets Health Canada guidelines. A legislative change was first proposed by North Coast NDP MLA Jennifer Rice, after schools in Prince Rupert found high levels of lead from a combination of acidic water and old plumbing.

There are a couple of opposition bills that you will hear a lot about in the coming months, after they were quietly but firmly rejected by the Christy Clark government.

Horgan’s Campaign Finance Reform Act is the fifth time the NDP has proposed legislation to ban corporate and union donations to political parties. The NDP has created a multimedia campaign to get “big money” out of B.C. politics, as has been done federally and in other provinces.

Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong’s flat refusal, and the B.C. Liberal Party’s multi-million dollar advantage in corporate fundraising, will be a key theme.

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Gary Holman presented the Government Advertising Act, which would require taxpayer-funded ads to be checked by the Auditor General’s office for partisan content.

That one was DOA too, no surprise since the government’s current series of ads would flunk such a test.

Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall revived another perennial NDP proposal, the Poverty Reduction and Economic Exclusion Act 2016. This is the demand for a multi-ministry anti-poverty plan with annual goals and reporting of results.

This one appeals to low-information voters, who are receptive to the Vancouver poverty industry’s annual bending of statistics to claim horrendous child poverty is uniquely rampant in B.C.

For actual results, see the recently defeated Manitoba NDP government’s experience with their identical annual plan. Poverty in Manitoba has been eliminated at about the same rate as homelessness in Vancouver, solemnly promised by Mayor Gregor Robertson many years ago.

The NDP is on firmer ground with the Speculator Tracking and Housing Affordability Act, proposed by Horgan to deal with soaring real estate costs that have spread across Metro Vancouver and into other desirable urban locations in B.C.

It aims to identify residential properties that are sitting empty and impose a levy on them, with proceeds going into a “housing affordability fund” to subsidize existing or new housing.

The idea is to tax speculators who are buying and holding properties to take advantage of increasing market value. They could escape the levy by making the property available for rent, or selling it to someone who will live in it.

The B.C. Liberals don’t like that idea, and nor do property developers who donate generously to them. Clark and de Jong argue that the vacancy rate is declining.

This will be one of the crucial issues of the next election.

 

 

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

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