VICTORIA - Adrian Dix says British Columbia's high-income earners should blame Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government if he has to raise their income taxes after the May provincial election.
The Opposition New Democrat leader said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press that if the NDP wins the May election and he becomes premier, people earning more than $150,000 a year could face income tax increases to help fund the new government's initiatives.
"We've been pretty specific: no change in the small business tax, no increased income taxes on the first $150,000 of income. We haven't decided on the rest. No reinstatement of the corporate capital tax."
Asked to clarify how an NDP government would approach income taxes on earnings above $150,000, Dix said he doesn't have a number yet, but he's sending the message that it likely won't be status quo.
"For 97 per cent of people, it won't affect them at all," he said. "On the first $150,000 of income, we're not going to see income tax changes. We're looking at whether we require — because of the financial state the Liberals are leaving the province in — some action at that level. We haven't landed on that question yet.
"But for most people that doesn't affect them," said Dix.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong forecasts a balanced budget in February — three months before the start of the campaign — despite recently releasing a six-month financial update that showed dropping natural gas and coal revenues contributing to a rising deficit, now pegged at $1.5 billion.
But Dix said if the New Democrats are elected they expect to inherit a difficult financial situation despite what de Jong says about a balanced budget.
Dix cites the 2009 election campaign where the Liberals said the budget deficit was $495 million and a harmonized sales tax was not on the government's radar.
But after winning a third consecutive term, the Liberals introduced the HST and announced a budget deficit of $2.8 billion, said Dix.
He said he has been spent more than a year telling British Columbians about his modest, stable and focused plans that include improving skills training, offering non-refundable grants for post-secondary students and increasing taxes on banks and corporations.
"Most people agree we have a skills shortage," said Dix.
He noted it's been 11 years since the Liberal government took over and changed the apprenticeship system, and now the completion rate is 37 per cent.
Dix bristled at suggestions the Liberals are addressing skills-training issues as part of their jobs plan.
"They can't say that," he said. "The one item in the budget that this premier cut was skills training and advanced education. For them to go on TV and spend public money now that should be going to skills training, on the premier's political message, shows just how out of touch they are on these issues."
"The only place they get it right is on their TV ads," Dix said.
He questioned the success of Clark's jobs plan, which she says is geared to turn B.C. into one of Canada's top economies.
"If you look at the jobs plan, which is essentially a political advertising campaign for the government — unless you want to create jobs in video productions for the Liberal Party — it hasn't been that successful," Dix said.
He said he expects skills training to be a long-term NDP government initiative that extends beyond four years.
"There are times in this government where a four-week agenda is a long agenda," Dix said.
He said an NDP government will impose a minimum tax on banks to provide post-secondary students with non-refundable grants to help them complete their education and join the work force.
Dix said he expects his student-loan program will help between 30,000 and 40,000 people.
"This is, I think, a right and progressive policy," he said.
Dix said an NDP government will raise the corporate income tax rate to 12 per cent from its current 10 per cent.
"The proposals I made on taxation were made at least 18 months ago, and that's unheard of," Dix said. "In fact, they've been around so long the Liberals are adopting some of my policies, which is the best part."
Dix said he believes his focus on ensuring British Columbians have the skills and education required to succeed in the province's economy will form the basis of a strong election platform.
"In many ways, people in B.C. have decided about the Liberal Party," he said. "They've decided that the Liberal Party has been in office too long. It's clearly the Liberals' view that they should be in office forever."
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