VANCOUVER — The New Democrats are promising a one-time $1,000 COVID-19 recovery benefit for families and $500 for individuals as part of an election platform in British Columbia that largely banks on voters wishing to stay the course.
NDP Leader John Horgan said the party's platform unveiled in Vancouver on Tuesday builds on progress already underway during his government's 3 1/2 years in office.
Additional pledges include a rent freeze until the end of next year, an expansion of $10-a-day daycare and the creation of British Columbia's second medical school at a location that has yet to be determined.
"Today's platform includes 154 commitments, 60 of which are brand new, the rest building on the work we've already started," Horgan said.
"We have three basic priorities: better health care for you and your family, affordability and security in your home and in your community, and good jobs and livelihoods in a clean-energy future."
The B.C. Liberals and Greens have not yet released their platforms. The Liberals accused the NDP of "bribing" voters, while the Greens suggested they were stepping on their own policy toes.
The NDP platform promises would push the anticipated $12.8-billion deficit for this fiscal year to $15 billion. They would cost about $2.2 billion in 2020-21, $2 billion in 2021-22 and $2.7 billion in 2022-23.
An additional $3 billion would be spent each year for three years on a new Recovery Investment Fund to build schools, hospitals and other capital projects.
"This plan will create 18,000 jobs a year and put people back to work who have been affected by COVID-19," Horgan said.
The new recovery benefit would come in the form of a one-time $1,000 direct deposit to families whose household income is under $125,000 annually, with a sliding scale up to $175,000. Single people earning less than $62,000 annually would be eligible for $500, with a sliding scale up to $87,000.
Horgan called the election just days after releasing his government's $1.5-billion economic recovery plan. He said the recovery benefit wasn't left out of that plan so he could save it as a campaign promise.
"We did not contemplate this until after we were putting together the platform, which was not until after the election was called," he said.
Horgan accused the B.C. Liberals of giving tax breaks to the rich and said the NDP benefit would help those who need it most while stimulating local economic activity.
"I think this is prudent economics and it makes sense right now," he said.
Additional promises in the plan include free transit for kids up to 12, free prescription contraceptives for all and the return of the renter's rebate for households earning up to $80,000 annually that are not already receiving other rental support.
The B.C. Liberals countered by accusing the NDP of withholding the recovery benefit unnecessarily and providing temporary solutions to long-term problems.
Jas Johal, the B.C. Liberal incumbent candidate for Richmond-Queensborough, questioned why the NDP didn't provide it in March after all parties unanimously approved $5 billion for COVID-19 response and recovery spending.
"It's a naked attempt to bribe B.C. taxpayers with their own money," he said.
He accused the NDP of offering short-term solutions instead of long-term plans. He denied that the Liberal's $7-billion promise to eliminate provincial sales tax for a year falls in the same camp.
"In the case of the PST announcement, the relief is immediate, yes, it puts money in the hands of British Columbians. They spend the money where they want and at the end of the day it gets people spending on small businesses that desperately need the help," Johal said.
Missing from the NDP platform is the promise of a second Surrey hospital, a Richmond acute care tower, more support for the beleaguered tourism industry and a plan to replace the Massey tunnel between Delta and Richmond, he said.
Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the NDP platform mirrors policies that her party has been pushing for. The Greens directly petitioned the NDP on some of the items in the platform over the past three years, including moving child care under the Ministry of Education and removing PST from electric bicycles, she said.
"There was no reason to trigger this election. We were ready to work on all of those proposals. Indeed, many of them come from our platform and our work in the last three and a half years," Furstenau said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2020.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press