British Columbia·Analysis

The NDP's platform is populist and progressive — but are the projections precise?

Call it the NDP mullet platform: balanced business up front, capital spending in the back.

Call it the NDP mullet platform: balanced business up front, capital spending in the back

NDP Leader John Horgan holds a copy of the party's election platform during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Thursday April 13, 2017. A provincial election will be held on May 9. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

The NDP's platform has a balanced budget, even while promising $1.26 billion in new spending in its first year in power, compared to just $700 million in new taxes.

The NDP platform is "affordable. It makes sense. It's fully costed," said party Leader John Horgan.

The NDP platform spends $7 billion more in capital debt in the next five years than the B.C. Liberals have promised on a bevy of new infrastructure projects that would build schools, roads, hospitals, public transit and 114,000 housing units. 

Call it the NDP mullet platform: balanced business up front, capital spending in the back.

"One thing the NDP needs to do is mobilize its base. Give them something to be a bit excited about, get them out to campaign, to give money, to vote, said longtime NDP strategist Bill Tieleman.

"And there's enough here in this document, and then some, to say we're going to be progressive. We're going to do things that haven't been done for awhile."

Yes, this a populist platform, with infrastructure spending, rate freezes and fee elimination, broadly paid for by taking $700 million a year from the province's wealthiest people and businesses, along with individuals who own homes but don't pay taxes here. 

In a time of economic anxiety over rising inequality, that's the sort of thing that can resonate with a lot of people.

But is it forecasted accurately?

Aggressive projections

The platform, which outlines balanced budgets for the NDP's first three years in office if elected on May 9, pays for the $1.26 billion in new spending and fee reductions in 2018/19 mostly through the aforementioned tax increases, along with lowering the projected surplus forecast  by the B.C. Liberals from $244 million to $131 million. 

But the single biggest line item is $260 million for "Cleaning up B.C Liberal waste and growing the economy." 

The NDP says its $10 billion capital spending plan ($7 billion directly and $3 billion through partnerships), will create 96,000 jobs and spur economic growth above B.C. Liberal projections.

Helmut Pastrick, chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union, says it's not an outlandish forecast but it does require a lot of things to go right.

"It should result in a higher GDP growth rate — how much is debatable — something in the order of 0.5 per cent GDP per year in 2019 is a good guess. There are many moving parts in a forecast and estimation," he said. 

"The fiscal plan is tighter — smaller surpluses than in the B.C. Liberal budget ... should negative developments occur, a deficit would arise quickly — however government can and would make adjustments to these conditions." 

There are also questions about what happens the year after the fiscal projections end. 

The NDP says it's paying for the elimination of the Port Mann and Golden Ears tolls through the already existing $500 million LNG prosperity fund the Liberals have created. When the fund runs out after three years, the party still has no plan for what would replace it. 

The $10 daily daycare is a 10-year plan that will cost $1.5 billion a year when fully implemented, but in year three, still ramping up, would cost the government $400 million. Once again, there's no detailed forecast for future costing.

Should they have promised a deficit?

"It's a little bit easier for the federal Liberal party, rather than a provincial NDP party of any province, to say we'll run a deficit," said Tieleman, who said the party was likely concerned with the optics, if it promised to go into the red.   

Still, the refusal to commit to any sort of deficit spending leaves more room for the Green Party to contrast itself as a bolder option — and one leader Andrew Weaver looks ready to take.

"There will probably be a small deficit in the first two years, but a surplus in years three and four," said Weaver of the party's platform, which will be fully revealed closer to the debate in two weeks time. 

He says the party will run a cumulative balanced budget over four years if elected, and portrayed the NDP platform as a potpourri of "cynical vote buys."

"What's missing is a vision. A vision of hope to actually put B.C. on the right track. Instead, it's all about epitomizing the anger they've developed over the last 16 years against the Liberals."

At least, that's the pitch Weaver will make at the televised leaders' debate to be held Apr. 26.

Until then, with all major promises by the three parties out in the open, it's posturing season. 


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