COQUITLAM, B.C. — British Columbia's New Democrats are promising three years of balanced budgets while also reining in auto insurance rates and BC Ferries fares if they win the provincial election.
The NDP expects to finance its campaign commitments by reversing a Liberal tax cut to people who earn more than $150,000 a year, hiking the corporate tax rate and putting a price on housing speculation.
"It's affordable. It makes sense. It's fully costed," NDP Leader John Horgan told supporters Thursday as he released his party's platform at a restaurant in Coquitlam.
The NDP says it will phase out medical service premiums and eliminate interest on student loans if it wins the May 9 election.
A $500-million prosperity fund that was supposed to consist of revenue from liquefied natural gas earnings, which Horgan calls Premier Christy Clark's "fantasy fund," will be used to eliminate tolls on two of the Lower Mainland's busiest bridges over the next three years.
"There are no tolls in Kelowna. There are no tolls on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Why should there be tolls for people who live south of the Fraser River?" Horgan asked about the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.
The NDP would increase the corporate tax rate by one point, to 12 per cent, which Horgan said would raise funds while keeping B.C. competitive. Horgan said he wouldn't change a Liberal plan to reduce the small business tax.
Runaway housing prices have been an issue in parts of British Columbia and the NDP would bring in a speculation tax that would apply to all out-of-province property owners. The two-per-cent tax on a property's assessed value would give the government $200 million a year in additional revenue, the party said.
"If they're not paying taxes in British Columbia, they're not growing our province," Horgan said.
The platform also includes plans for $10-a-day childcare and an annual $400 rebate for renters.
While operating expenses are predicted to produce small surpluses over the next three years, the New Democrats expect to add $7 billion to the province's debt over five years through capital expenditures aimed at creating 96,000 jobs.
That spending would spur economic growth and pose no threat to the province's triple-A credit rating, Horgan said.
But Mike de Jong, the Liberal government's finance minister, said the NDP's proposals would cost at least $4 billion a year and lead to a credit downgrade.
"The spending that is being proposed here will either lead to massive deficits or massive tax increases, or maybe a combination of the two," he said.
De Jong called the New Democrats' plan "misleading in the extreme" and said British Columbia would no longer be Canada's leading economy.
"For the people who are drawn to the chant 'We're number eight,' Mr. Horgan has presented a blueprint for getting there," he said. "It's almost platform by camouflage."
Horgan said the platform is based on financial figures in the government's 2017-18 budget.
"If they're not telling us the truth, I can't be held to their numbers," Horgan said when asked whether an NDP government would promise not to introduce any additional taxes other than those in the platform.
Also on Thursday, Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley, said she told government workers thinking about going to B.C. to campaign for the New Democrats that they should stay home.
"Certainly it's difficult for one to be working for our government and then also supporting candidates who would be opposed to the successful construction of the Kinder Morgan pipeline."
Notley said the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline that links Alberta to the Pacific Ocean through B.C. is critical to province's economic prosperity.
Clark supports the pipeline project, while Horgan has said it can't go forward.
— Follow @gwomand on Twitter. With files from Camille Bains in Vancouver.