BC Liberals pledging to raise welfare rates, ban big money in Throne Speech

British Columbia Legislature Buildings in Victoria. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

The BC Liberals say they are listening to the message from voters, but some will interpret it as a desperate bid to hold onto power.

The Christy Clark government is hinting that two key BC NDP platform pieces will be included in Thursday’s throne speech: an end to corporate and union donations, and an increase in welfare rates.

The welfare rate increase is B.C.’s first in a decade.

LISTEN: CKNW Assistant News Director Charmaine de Silva breaks down the new Liberal promises

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READ MORE: BC election count results confirm minority government

The party plans to announce a $100 a month increase to income assistance, and will also expand LIFT, a program that helps single parents with child care and expenses while they upgrade skills.

Along with those rate increase, the Liberals are promising a new mechanism to increase welfare rates annually and tie disability rates to the rate of inflation.

Big money ban

In addition to the social assistance changes, the BC Liberals will also promise a ban on corporate and union donations.

That policy was a core campaign promise from the Greens and the BC NDP, and one that appeared to resonate in a year where the New York Times declared B.C. the “Wild West” of political donations for its lax laws.

An RCMP investigation into improper donations also remains underway, amid revelations earlier this year that lobbyists had been making illegal donations for their clients in their own names.

The New Democrats have introduced six different failed private members bills aimed at ending big money in B.C. politics in recent years.

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The Liberals had previously promised an independent panel to review and make non-binding recommendations on how parties raise funds.

BC Green Leader Andrew Weaver released a statement on the policy shift applauding the move, but suggesting it is too little too late.”

“It’s important to remember that despite this conversion in the last days of their dying government, the BC Liberals are still accepting millions in corporate donations.”

Funding question

The Liberals say the policy departure comes after listening to the message voters sent them in the May election that saw the party lose its majority along with six seats in Metro Vancouver.

Asked how a BC Liberal government would pay for the new welfare rates, Social Development Minister Michelle Stilwell would only say that it would be accomplished within existing budgets.

“Well, I think we’ll have to wait until we see the final quarter come out, and see how much money is in the government surplus,” she said.

The premier’s office later followed up with figures, showing the welfare rate increase would cost $31.3-million this fiscal year, and $105.5-million spread over the next two years.

The LIFT pilot project, which would be limited to 2,000 applicants, would cost just under $32-million over two years.

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LISTEN: Martyn Brown, former Chief of Staff to Premier Gordon Campbell unpacks the policy changes

During years of questioning on why welfare rates and disability rates couldn’t be raised, the party has insisted the money just wasn’t there.

As recently as the unveiling of the February budget, Finance Minister Mike de Jong brushed off questions about why welfare rates weren’t being increased, saying the government was “allocating the finite resources we have.”

The BC NDP isn’t buying the BC Liberals’ about face.

Coquitlam-Malliardville MLA Selina Robinson says the Christy Clark government has been looking out for its friends and insiders for years, while British Columbians have been paying for it.

“Now we have Christy Clark saying whatever she needs to to try to hang onto power, but we know and certainly British Columbians know that she can’t be trusted to fix the problems that she created.”

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Robinson says the Liberals have had 16 years to address welfare and disability rates and campaign finance reform.

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