NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson sparred over who is more responsible in giving out billions of dollars Wednesday, as each pitched their latest policy ideas to voters.
Horgan outlined the B.C. NDP’s latest 10-year plan, this one for expansion of cancer care. It includes cancer treatment centres in Nanaimo and Kamloops, as well as in a proposed new hospital in Surrey. Adrian Dix, whom Horgan said would continue as health minister if the NDP forms a government after the Oct. 24 vote, said more diagnostic and treatment is needed because in 20 years, B.C. will have twice as many cancer patients as it has now, due to better survival and longer life expectancy of a growing senior population.
Wilkinson continued his theme of public safety, promising that a B.C. Liberal government would dedicate $58 million to the hiring of 100 psychiatric specialist nurses and social workers to support police in dealing with crime and disorder on urban streets. Wilkinson also promised to fund 200 additional police officers and 40 Crown prosecutors, to deal with backlog in criminal cases aggravated by COVID-19 court slowdowns, and to approve charges more quickly.
With a televised leaders’ debate approaching at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 13, Horgan and Wilkinson are facing questions about their main election spending commitments. For Horgan it’s another round of COVID-19 support payments for most B.C. residents, up to $1,000 for low- and middle-income families and $500 for individuals earning up to $62,500.
Wilkinson kicked off his campaign with a promise to eliminate the seven per cent provincial sales tax for a year and then bring it back at a reduced rate of three per cent the following year, with savings for an average family estimated at $1,700. Each promise would add billions to a deficit for the current year that is already estimated at nearly $13 billion.
Horgan rejected suggestions that his $1.4 billion cash payment plan was money held back from the $5 billion COVID-19 aid package that was unanimously approved for borrowing in the legislature this spring. He said the idea was added to the NDP platform after the election call in late September, as a response to Wilkinson “blowing $8 billion” on an across-the-board PST cut.
Wilkinson said the PST reduction would mean $460 more for a person making minimum wage, and savings for everyone could be used for their own priorities.
“Let’s be wary of NDP promises to hand out cheques, and especially when it comes to basically asking government to collect the money and then hand it back to you,” Wilkinson said. “A cut in sales tax stimulates the economy.”