Monday, 26 Oct 2020

COMMENTARY: No election promise is too outlandish in the world of B.C. politics

Canadian voters are used to politicians promising them the moon at election time.

But voters in British Columbia are currently being promised the moon, stars, sun, planets and all the dark matter in the universe for good measure.

A tsunami of election promises is washing over the province as the three main political parties trip over themselves in their rush to shower voters with goodies.

It started with B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson’s bold promise to scale back the seven per cent provincial sales tax.

A PST promise was not a surprise after the Liberals earlier called for sales-tax relief as a way to stimulate the economy and to help British Columbians struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province’s powerful business lobby — generally supportive of the B.C. Liberals, who more closely resemble Conservatives in the province’s contorted political landscape — wanted the PST cut in half.

But Wilkinson didn’t just promise to chop a point or two off the PST as expected.

He promised to eliminate the entire tax for one year, followed by a three per cent sales tax in the second year of a COVID-19 recovery plan.

The dramatic tax-cut promise came as the Liberals languished behind the governing NDP in the opinion polls.

The New Democrats called it a desperate Hail Mary pass that would blow the provincial budget to smithereens.

The current budget deficit stands at around $13 billion. Eliminating the revenue-generating sales tax would bloat it to about $20 billion.

This from a party that once passed one of Canada’s first balanced-budget laws during a 16-year run in power.

“I hope he’s going to tell British Columbians what services he won’t be providing,” fumed NDP leader John Horgan, who said the Liberals would slash government spending to make up for the lost tax revenue.

But it didn’t take long for Horgan to get in on the promise-a-palooza.

Just a few days after the Liberals’ promise to vaporize the sales tax, Horgan promised to simply give British Columbians free money if he’s re-elected.

Calling it a “COVID-19 recovery benefit,” Horgan promised B.C. families $1,000 cash to help them through the tough times.

Even families whose incomes were not impacted by the pandemic would be eligible for the loot, which Horgan promised would be delivered by direct deposit to voters’ bank accounts.

Now it was time for the Liberals’ to cry foul.

“This is bribing people with their own money,” said Liberal candidate Jas Johal.

But Horgan denied anything so sleazy.

“We’re not just throwing money to try and buy votes,” he insisted.

Which reminded me of an old rule of thumb in Canadian politics: any time a politician says he is not buying votes, he is buying votes.

Amazing.

After earlier ripping the Liberals for recklessly inflating the budget deficit with desperate promises, Horgan admitted his own free-money promise will further bloat the deficit to around $15 billion.

The unprecedented frenzy of spending promises is happening in a province that boasted one of Canada’s few balanced budgets at the start of the year.

But that was before the pandemic hit, sending governments across Canada into aggressive spending mode.

In British Columbia, every major political party is getting in on the act.

On the same day Horgan was promising free money to voters, the third-place Green Party was promising free child care and a four-day work week.

It’s an astonishing display of political one-upmanship that has many British Columbians wondering what could be next.

Could Wilkinson promise to pay off everyone’s mortgage and credit-card bills? Could Horgan promise every kid a pony?

In British Columbia, the political rules have changed. No promise, it appears, is too outlandish, no commitment too expensive.

With the election just two weeks away, wait to see who wins the spending contest. Then watch to see if B.C.-style promise-mania catches on elsewhere in Canada.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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