Does their commitment to change get a passing grade?
“Our first full budget took bold action to make housing more available and affordable for people, including closing loopholes and cracking down on tax cheats and housing speculators, investing in the homes people need and making our rental laws fairerfor everyone.” — John Horgan, BC Premier
In a historic turn of events one year ago, the BC NDP took to the helm of the provincial government. After 16 years in power, the Liberal government was ousted by John Horgan’s NDP and his agreement with Andrew Weaver and the BC Green Party. The past 12 months have brought about a mix of change, controversy and, of course, criticism, under a government that vowed to build a better British Columbia by increasing affordability.
It did not take Horgan long to deliver. “The immediate success of NDP election promise came with elimination of tolls at the Port Mann Bridge, which was very popular with the South of the Fraser communities,” notes Shinder Purewal, political expert and Kwantlen Polytechnic University professor. The removal of tolls on both the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges less than two months after the government’s official start date garnered plenty of positive attention, as commuters reveled in the cost savings and quick follow-through of the new government.
Andrew Wilkinson, leader of the BC Liberal Party, did not share in the excitement, noting affordability within the province has changed under the NDP’s rule, but unfortunately not for the better. “They did remove the bridge toll but forgot to mention they’re putting four and half million dollars debt onto the rest of British Columbia,” he says, accusing the NDP of just offering “free stuff” including “free bridge tolls, cheap child care, a renters handout and dirt cheap student loans” without actually increasing affordability. “Eventually, we pay for this.”
“From day one, our government’s priority has been to make life better for people in B.C,” Premier Horgan told DARPAN. “We’re taking concrete steps to make life more affordable, improve the services people count on, and build a strong, sustainable economy that creates good jobs throughout B.C.”
The government’s election platform promised the NDP would address the neglected concerns of British Columbians, many of which have been touched upon, for better or worse, in their first 12 months in power.
KINDER MORGAN’S TRANS MOUNTAIN PIPELINE SYSTEM
The controversy surrounding Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline and a bitter battle with the Province of Alberta over the project’s proceedings have consumed much of the year. While the BC NDP have yet to take concrete action to block the expansion of the pipeline, their opposition to it has perhaps overshadowed other projects and proposals currently in the works.
“People are waiting on [other] promises but the flip-flop on Site C dam and attempts to block Kinder Morgan project are making investors nervous,” says Purewal. Recent polls have shown the focus on their opposition to the pipeline may be causing support for both the NDP and Green Partys to drop.
“Tackling the housing crisis was the top priority for people in B.C., and is the top priority for this government,” says Horgan. “That’s why our first full budget took bold action to make housing more available and affordable for people, including closing loopholes and cracking down on tax cheats and housing speculators, investing in the homes people need and making our rental laws fairer for everyone.” He adds, “When there were concerns about the speculation tax inadvertently affecting some vacation homes, we made changes,” he says.
Wilkinson didn’t quite see it the same way. “In general, [the NDP] are proving to be very good at raising taxes and not very good at governing. The fact that they put out their ‘so-called’ speculation tax, which is really a housing tax, is a good sign of that,” he tells DARPAN, further pointing out, “Rather than reducing taxes so that people have more money in their pocket and making it possible for people to pay the price of things, they are increasing their taxes, which means less money in people’s pockets. And, it increases the cost of housing.”
The NDP’s highly anticipated ‘$10-a-day’ childcare initiative doesn’t quite look like parents imagined it would. The government instead announced the Child Care BC program, which includes plans for a fee-reduction program as well as a new childcare benefit. “Their child care promise...has been largely forgotten and you’ll notice they’ve completely stopped talking about it,” says Wilkinson, explaining that thousands of daycare providers are not able to participate in the program for affordability reasons. “It has fallen off the agenda in the last month because it’s proving to be a failure.”
Ahead of the election, the NDP vowed to increase minimum wage to $15/hour. While the resolution is several years away, the government announced details early into 2018 that include a $1.30/hour increase in June 2018, followed by decreasing increases each subsequent June until 2021 when minimum wage will rise to $15.20.
MEDICAL SERVICES PLAN
The government announced plans to follow through with their promise to eliminate Medical Services Plan (MSP) fees, phased premiums out by January 1, 2020, over a year ahead of their intended plan. While it saves families from paying out of their own pocket, Purewal notes the burden is now being passed to employers, many of which are small businesses, health authorities and school boards “which were already suffering from underfunding.” “No such details were published in the NDP manifesto in 2017,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to deliver on our core commitments,” says Horgan, noting their investments in health care, education and the voting system.
Weaver’s sentiments echoed those of the Premier. “I am pleased with the overall progress of the minority government's first year,” he said. “Banning corporate and union donations and placing limits on individual contributions is one of the most fundamental, long-lasting changes we could make to put people back at the centre of government decision-making in this province. That’s why we ensured that was the first piece of legislation that was introduced last fall.”
While it’d be hard to argue the NDP have had a busy first year, with the introduction of several taxes, dedicated funding for a new student housing program and promises to freeze fares on the major BC Ferries routes among other initiatives, there are still unresolved issues that deserve attention in the near future according to the many sides involved. Weaver believes more work needs to be done to address the affordability of housing in order to make BC communities more livable.
“The George Massey Tunnel Replacement Project remains suspended while an announcement to demolish four-lane Pattullo Bridge to construct another four-lane new bridge does nothing to resolve the issue of traffic jams,” Purewal says, adding the building of rental and co-op housing and the elimination of portables in Surrey to the list of promises requiring attention.
“BC has a highly educated workforce, world-class research institutions, a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit and is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live – we should be capitalizing on all these strengths to ensure we are leaders in all the economic opportunities of the 21st century,” says Weaver.
While those making, keeping and potentially breaking the promises believe the government is headed in the right direction, the Leader of the Opposition is less than satisfied. “The NDP budget has proved to be a huge disappointment,” says Wilkinson, noting his displeasure with the NDP’s campaign promise of 114,000 new housing units versus the 1,700 rentals laid out in the budget.
“They raised taxes by 3.8 billion dollars and said they are going to deliver on child care and housing to make life more affordable. There’s no way their housing plan comes anywhere near close to addressing the demand and the cost of housing is being driven up by NDP policies.” Criticisms and controversy aside, the province has seen many changes in the government’s rookie year, one promise everyone agrees they’ve come through on.
British Columbians mixed on NDP’s performance
A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds British Columbians feeling uncertain and anxious about the direction in which the province is headed.
On one hand, British Columbians support some key policy changes introduced by Premier John Horgan on the affordability file. On the other, they are expressing palpable unease over his party’s handling of an ongoing dispute with the Alberta and federal governments over the Kinder Morgan pipeline project.
These findings reflect a British Columbia as divided as it was 12 months ago. Overall, more British Columbians say the province is on the “wrong track” (42%) than say it’s on the right one (29%).
> Premier Horgan has the approval of 47 per cent of B.C. residents, more than approve of either opposition Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson (26%) or Green leader Andrew Weaver (34%)
> A majority (57%) continue to support changing the voting system to ensure more proportional representation, and a similar number (56%) do not express concern that details of a planned referendum on the topic have yet to be released
> Age, political partisanship and regional differences are key drivers of opinion on government performance, with younger British Columbians holding more favourable views, and older respondents holding more unfavourable ones
The BC NDP holds a vote intention advantage in the City of Vancouver, Metro Vancouver, and on Vancouver Island, while the BC Liberals hold a significant advantage in the rest of B.C.
INPUTS: Angus Reid Institute
Photos: PMO OFFICE, BC NDP GOVernment, Angus Reid Institute