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Keith Baldrey: Site C was tough, but the BC NDP’s budget could be a lot tougher

Premier John Horgan speaks to media following his speech to delegates and supporters during the B.C. NDP Convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday, November 4, 2017. .
Premier John Horgan speaks to media following his speech to delegates and supporters during the B.C. NDP Convention at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, B.C., on Saturday, November 4, 2017. . Chad Hipolito/CP

With its first budget in sight on the near horizon, the NDP government is about to discover the heavy lifting that comes with being in government.

The Site C dam decision was an early test of a tricky issue, but more significant challenges await Premier John Horgan and his NDP caucus colleagues.

Coverage of the BC NDP on Globalnews.ca:

Until now, the NDP has largely played the hand dealt by its predecessors, the BC Liberals, but that will all change when the government’s first budget is introduced in a matter of weeks.

The NDP probably regrets stuffing so many expensive and lofty promises into its 100-page campaign platform last spring (building 114,000 housing units or creating 96,000 construction jobs for example).

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The party knew it was facing an uphill election battle, so it made “affordability” and increased government service levels the heart of its campaign platform and dressed it up with all kinds of detailed promises, many of which are going to be tough to fulfill anytime soon.

Look for the BC Liberals, once they clear up their leadership question next month, to revisit that platform and focus on NDP promises like these in the coming year:

Housing

While in Opposition and during last spring’s election campaign, the NDP argued that government action could have a direct and relatively quick impact on the housing crisis in Metro Vancouver, both at the levels of ownership and rentals.

The New Democrats castigated the BCLiberal government time and again for dragging its heels and doing relatively nothing (it eventually brought in a foreign buyers’ tax) to solve the crisis.

But the NDP is now in charge, and expectations are high (rather unrealistically, I think) for the new government to take the kind of action that will make homes more affordable, and more available.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James leaves the legislative assembly after delivering the budget from the legislative assembly at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, September 11, 2017.
B.C. Finance Minister Carole James leaves the legislative assembly after delivering the budget from the legislative assembly at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, September 11, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Finance Minister Carole James has said “everything is on the table,” including (most likely) a speculation home buying tax.

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We’ll see more details in the budget, but if housing prices remain high and rental units remain scarce and expensive, the NDP will begin to feel the kind of political pressure the party inflicted on its predecessor.

There’s also that other housing-related promise the NDP doesn’t seem to want to much talk about anymore: a $400 “renter’s rebate” cheque for all tenants.

Given the budget pressures James appears to be facing (she’s promised to deliver a balanced one even though she’s about to lose more than $1 billion from Medical Service Premiums, which have been cut in half), I wouldn’t be surprised if this promise remains on the shelf for a while.

Child care

This was one of those fairy-tale-like campaign promises of the NDP.

For political reasons, the party insisted on adopting a $10-a-day child care system, knowing it would appeal to all kinds of young families struggling to financially survive in Metro Vancouver’s suburban ridings, where the election would most likely be decided.

It’s a nice slogan, but not terribly well thought out.

John Horgan is seen at a park in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, June 7, 2017, where he spoke about the future of daycare in the province of British Columbia.
John Horgan is seen at a park in Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, June 7, 2017, where he spoke about the future of daycare in the province of British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Such a program needs money (and lots of it: more than $1 billion) but it also requires a lot more trained child care providers and actual physical spaces to locate daycare operations.

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James is now characterizing this promise as a “10-year plan.”

But I’m not sure voters who thought the magic pixie dust sprinkled on everything during the campaign would pay off immediately are going to be impressed by any serious delay on this front.

Electoral reform

The NDP favours changing the way we elect a provincial government to some kind of proportional representation model, which the BC Liberals vehemently oppose.

There will be a province-wide referendum on the issue next fall, and the Opposition has accused the NDP government of stacking the deck in favor of PR through what it claims will be a heavily biased referendum question.

READ MORE: The BC NDP could be risking its future under proportional representation

We haven’t seen the question yet, but the legislation does open the door to having a biased one on the ballot.

Don’t be surprised to see legal action taken if the government forges ahead and turns it into a preferential ballot, with multiple choices.

In any event, get ready to hear lots of noise about this one in the coming year.

  • Keith.baldrey@globalnews.ca
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