04/19/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 06/18/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Election 2013: NDP Targets Moira Stilwell In Vancouver-Langara

BC Liberals
VANCOUVER - The NDP and Liberal visions for how to push British Columbia into the future came into stark contrast on the campaign trail Friday, with Adrian Dix pledging an NDP government would hike welfare rates and family bonus programs to fight poverty while Christy Clark promised help to resource communities struggling with the challenges brought on by a growing boom.

Dix took his campaign to a Vancouver community centre to announce that a government led by him would make it a priority to lift British Columbia from its spot at or near the bottom of Canada's child-poverty rankings. For the parents of those children, Dix said his party would hike social assistance rates.

Welfare recipients would immediately be eligible for an earnings exemption of $400 — double the current amount — which would not be clawed back from regular welfare payments.

Single people on welfare and couples without children would receive a $20 monthly increase within two years, moving them to $630 per month from $610, Dix said.

"These initiatives are targeted and focused initiatives," said Dix. "This reflects that we have decided to get at child poverty in this case and at (income) inequality by targeting it directly."

While campaigning in northwest B.C. on Friday, Liberal Leader Christy Clark said child poverty isn't about poor children, but rather it's a result of parental poverty.

"When parents aren't working and parents are living in poverty, children are, too," she said. "The way to solve that is to grow your economy, put people to work in good, decent family-supporting jobs like the ones the liquefied natural gas industry is going to create for people. That's how we solve it."

Clark wrapped up the final day of her tour through B.C.'s north, where she highlighted the Liberals' commitment to resource development, in particular, the burgeoning liquefied natural gas industry.

The Prosperity Fund, announced in her throne speech, is the Liberals' plan to help municipalities cope with a flood of workers and activity.

Clark announced a plan to negotiate a rural dividend that would see communities along a project path benefit directly.

Details have yet to be worked out with rural leaders, she said, but money would come from her proposed Prosperity Fund, which was announced in her throne speech to help fund infrastructure in those communities.

"The communities that produce the resource experience growth and real change, and they have trouble managing it," Clark said on the third day of her northern campaign tour and the fourth day of the formal campaign.

Clark said the dividend would be about $25 million a year starting in 2015-2016.

Dix's foray into Social Development Minister Moira Stilwell's riding was part of the NDP campaign's pattern of making major platform announcements in the ridings held by Liberal ministers.

The NDP's proposals on education were announced in Education Minister Don McRae's Vancouver Island riding Thursday and the party's skills training announcement Wednesday was made in Finance Minister Mike de Jong's riding.

On Friday, Dix noted his primary goal is elevating B.C. from its position in Canada's child-poverty rankings. He said B.C. has been in last place for seven years under B.C. Liberal governments and currently ranks ninth, ahead of only Manitoba.

However, Dix couldn't say how much better B.C.'s child-poverty rate would be if his social reforms were implemented.

Statistics Canada data shows the top 20 per cent of British Columbians earn 11 times more than what the bottom 20 per cent earn — the worst income equality ratio in the country.

British Columbians in the bottom income bracket earn less today than they did 25 years ago, while wages for the province's top income earners have steadily climbed since the mid 1970s.

Paul Kershaw, a policy professor at the University of British Columbia, said part of the problem is a failure to address a growing disparity between young people and seniors.

"B.C. is the place with one of the steepest declines in wages for young people," Kershaw said.

He noted the Liberal strategy has been to lift people out of poverty with a job.

"But jobs aren't quite what they used to be especially for young people," Kershaw said.

Still, Dix's plan left a veteran anti-poverty activist bitterly disappointed.

"A lot of people in B.C. want an effective poverty reduction strategy,” said Jean Swanson of Raise the Rates.

"The foundation of that strategy is a significant increase in welfare to the poorest people in the province. This $20 announcement is an insult. Voters who want poverty reduction are left wondering who to vote for."

Swanson said her group was especially disappointed that the NDP did not promise extra help for those with disabilities living with welfare. The group noted those people must live on $906 per month, compared to 41,588 in Alberta.

Dix said his plan will cost $558 million over the next three years. Of that cost, $146 million would come from cancelling a proposed Liberal government plan to offer families with children under six years old a $55 monthly bonus payment.

He said under the NDP's proposed $210 million B.C. Family Bonus Program as many as 300,000 families would get payments of up to $70 a month per child in family bonuses, depending on income. Those monthly payments would be enough to bring about 8,400 B.C. children officially out of poverty as measured by Statistics Canada income cut off rates, Dix said.

The monthly bonus payments would apply to families earning combined incomes of $66,000 or less. Families with children earning $25,000 or less would get the full $70 monthly payments, while others would receive lower payments based on a sliding scale of combined income.

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