NEWS
04/19/2017 15:54 EDT | Updated 04/21/2017 07:24 EDT

B.C. NDP call Liberal attacks on platform financing 'fearmongering'

VANCOUVER — Christy Clark's Liberals are ramping up attacks on the NDP's ability to manage British Columbia's finances, accusing the party of releasing a platform with a $6.5-billion "crater" that can only be filled with middle-class tax hikes.

The New Democrats' platform contains expensive promises including $10-a-day child care and eliminating tolls on two busy bridges in Metro Vancouver. But the party says a new tax on housing speculators and raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations will help balance the budget.

NDP finance critic Carole James dismissed the Liberal accusations on Wednesday as "fearmongering."

"Let's remember that last election, Christy Clark literally put 'Debt-free B.C.' on the side of her campaign bus," said James, referring to Clark's promise to eliminate the debt through a liquefied natural gas industry.

"In four years since then, she's added $11 billion to B.C.'s debt. It's really quite incredible to see Christy Clark making these claims after her own credibility has been shredded time after time."

Michael de Jong, the finance minister in Clark's government, held a news conference where he said the Liberals' analysis of the NDP platform reveals $6.5 billion in costs over four years that the party has not accounted for.

He said a NDP promise to eliminate medical services premiums would cost $1.7 billion. The Liberals have also promised to eventually kill the MSP, starting with a 50-per-cent cut next January, but de Jong said the Liberals won't ditch the fees within the next three years.

"We've set an objective, but we have also said 'This is what we can afford to do today,' " he said.

De Jong also said a freeze on BC Hydro rates would cost $1.2 billion over four years, while an ICBC rate freeze would cost $1.9 billion.

However, James said the NDP only plans to freeze hydro rates for two years. The party would roll back a 42-per-cent increase to ICBC rates but has not committed to freezing them, she said.

As for the MSP, she said the NDP would transition to a progressive tax system similar to other provinces in which higher-income earners pay more than middle or lower-income earners.

The New Democrats are planning to take a $500-million "LNG prosperity fund" created by Clark's government and apply it towards eliminating tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges.

But de Jong said these funds are insufficient to cover the toll revenues of the two bridges and interest costs for the construction of the new Port Mann Bridge.

The Liberals have promised to cap annual bridge tolls at $500 per person.

Clark, wearing a blue hard hat while campaigning in Surrey, said B.C. is leading the country in job creation and economic growth and the New Democrats threaten that progress.

"Their platform creates not a hole in our budget, it is a crater, a giant, smoking crater of a hole to the tune of billions of dollars that they are going to fill with your money in the form of new taxes," she said.

The Liberals have been in power since 2001 and have a released a platform that promises $157 million in new spending over three years above what they already committed to in the government's budget tabled in February. Both the Liberal and NDP platforms are based on the numbers in the recent budget.

The NDP platform commits to balancing the budget this year and the following two years, but the party says it is concerned that the Liberals' pre-election budget does not reflect real needs in those years.

The New Democrat platform also calls for $7 billion in additional borrowing, but James said that will only raise the debt-to-GDP ratio by one per cent over five years.

NDP Leader John Horgan campaigned Wednesday at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he promoted his plan to eliminate interest on student loans and offer a $1,000 completion grant to people who finish their studies.

Horgan said the numbers in the NDP platform are "very solid."

"(The Liberals) think they own this money. They don't," he said. "These are tax dollars that have been put into a pot by hard-working British Columbians and they want a government that's going to make choices that benefit their lives."

— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.