British Columbia·Analysis

B.C. premier hopes approaching election will help voters forget the past

The B.C. Liberals are hoping voters have short memories. With an election less than two months away the government has shifted direction on MSP premiums, housing affordability, and most recently, political donation reform.

Christy Clark's vision didn't always include MSP cuts, housing taxes and political donation reform

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is hoping voters buy her current vision and forget about the policies of the past. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

For most people, it's hard enough to remember what you had for breakfast, let alone what the B.C. government said a week ago.

It was last week when Liberal campaign co-chair Rich Coleman was asked about what changes the B.C. Liberals would consider to reform political financing.

"We are not about to change anything. We have looked at this thing from a party perspective and will provide transparency," said Coleman in response.

In fact, for more than a year Clark was resistant to pressure to ban union and corporate political donations and cap individual donations.

Four days later, she stood before reporters with a new plan. If her government were to be re-elected: the province would create a panel to review all issues pertaining to campaign finance reform.

So what happened in the span of a week to make the government change its mind?

Did it really have a change of heart? Or was the premier relying on voters only paying close attention to policies the closer we are to the election?

"It's a legitimate subject for debate in the election campaign of what we would like to do with it," said Clark when asked why she's adjusting things now.

"This [election financing] hasn't been changed since 1995. If we are going to make a change, if people want change or if we are going to stay with the status quo or elements of it, let's look at it holistically."

Election campaigns matter

It's not surprising politicians wait until the final weeks leading up to an election to make changes. 

University of Victoria political scientist Michael Prince says most voters don't start paying attention until much closer to the election. And that can be troublesome, according to Prince, because parties are often judged solely on what they have recently done and not on their longer, in some cases more checkered, political history.

"Most British Columbians still tend to be spectators. Their attention seems to be elsewhere during the four-year span," said Prince. "What I have found most intriguing is that most people seem more prone to want to talk about Donald Trump."

Not first government turnaround

The panel on political fundraising is not Clark's first turnaround. There is also housing.

Premier Christy Clark, alongside Finance Minister Mike de Jong, speaks to reporters on July 25, 2016, following the introduction of the foreign homebuyers tax. (Richard Zussman/CBC News)

For more than a year, Clark argued that the problems in the Metro Vancouver housing market were due to a supply issue, for which municipalities were partly to blame and that imposing an additional tax on potential buyers wasn't a solution.

"The province cannot do this alone and there are some things the province can do but there are things that cities have to do. We are going to have to do it as partners," said Clark on Feb. 9, 2016. 

Five months later, the province surprised many by unilaterally implementing a 15 per cent tax on home purchases by foreign buyers. 

Yet housing prices had been rising for years.

The average price of a detached home the day Clark won the B.C. Liberal leadership in March 2011 and took her current job was $714,700, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver. Nearly six years later, the average price is $1,194,000. 

MSP premium cut covering up past increases

And then there's the old budget favourite, MSP premiums.

Since Clark first became premier in 2011, the numbers show the Liberals have jacked up MSP premiums by 24 per cent or about $345 a year for an average family.

Go all the way back to when the Liberals were first elected in 2001, and premiums are up 108 per cent or about $933 a year for that same family.

In February of 2016, Finance Minister Mike de Jong was asked about whether sweeping changes to the premiums would come, to which he replied "health care is not free."

Then, in back-to-back budgets leading up to the election, the government first cut premium payments for children, and this year, announced plans to cut premiums in half for individuals or families that make less than $120,000.

The government contended the reason it can do it now is because of a booming economy.

"It's been interesting. In the last 12 to 15 months, there have been a series of these, we would have called them in the old days, flip flops or U-turns," said Prince.

"I think it just shows a government that has not been as effective as it would have liked to have been on these issues and is now trying to change the channel." 

The voters will get to do some channel flipping of their own in May. Will they like what they see on the new channel?

Or will they be so appalled by what they have just watched that they flip the dial and settle in for a new show?


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