VANCOUVER – British Columbia’s premier insists voters don’t want their politicians to make expensive promises during the election campaign this spring.
If she’s right, it will be a happy coincidence for the governing Liberals, whose budget this week left little room for the party to craft an extravagant election platform.
Instead, Premier Christy Clark says she believes voters will be impressed her government focused on balancing the books rather than resorting to a “goodie-bag budget.”
“I think people see political promises for what they are, and I think when politicians wander around on the hustings and are promising something here and something there, people see through it,” Clark said after a speech in Vancouver on Wednesday, a day after her government tabled its latest budget.
“I think people are just sick to death of politicians trying to buy them with their own money.”
A day earlier, Clark’s Liberals unveiled a fiscal plan that will raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy and sell off government assets to balance the budget — but just barely — in the coming year. It included few new spending promises.
She has now started the difficult task of convincing the public a balanced budget should be enough to reward her government with a fourth term, in what will be her first general election campaign as party leader.
Clark repeated her party’s mantra that the budget is about making difficult choices in what are still uncertain economic times.
She acknowledged her election platform will be much the same.
When asked whether she can offer anything new during the election campaign, she pointed to two programs included in her budget — an education savings grant for parents that won’t actually cost the government any additional money and a tax credit for parents that doesn’t take effect for more than two years.
Clark suggested she’ll have to wait to introduce much more than that. In the meantime, she said voters should look beyond what are often hollow election promises.
“You’ll see in the coming months some of the plans we have further out,” she said.
“I think people, citizens, actually look harder at values than they do at promises. I think this campaign is going to be about what we value as people and as leaders, what principles define us.”
Clark also dug up an old favourite of the Liberal party that will no doubt figure prominently in her campaign. In her speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, Clark warned that the New Democrats will ruin the province’s economy.
“We are at a crossroads here in British Columbia,” said Clark. “We can slide backward into bigger government, to more taxes, into debt that will drown our children for a decade.”
While Clark attempted to sell the budget in Vancouver, her finance minister was doing the same in Victoria, giving his own speech to that city’s chamber of commerce.
Mike de Jong acknowledged raising income taxes for corporations and high income earners is “an area a little unfamiliar to us.” But he echoed the premier’s comments that the Liberals are prepared to make tough decisions to produce a balanced budget.
“We’re asking those with a little more to contribute a little more over the next two years,” de Jong said.
University of Victoria political scientist James Lawson said the Liberals appear to have decided a balanced budget is one of their top weapons heading into the May 14 election campaign.
And Lawson pointed out the Liberals were willing to inflict some pain on their most ardent supporters to get there. He saidit appears the Liberals are betting the business community and wealthy British Columbians will continue to support the party despite anyway.
“They can’t be seen to be running a deficit,” Lawson said.
“So, it’s true to say they are making a calculated decision here with respect to their own supporters.”
Tuesday’s budget forecasts a surplus of $197 million for the coming year, returning the province to balanced budgets after several years of deficits.
To achieve that, the budget includes a tax increase for British Columbians earning more than $150,000 a year. The Liberals plan to undo that tax increase in two years.
The budget also increased the corporate income tax rate this year by one percentage point to 11 per cent. The increase comes into effect a year earlier than expected.
Those tax changes are partly in line with what the Opposition New Democrats have already pledged to do if elected. NDP Leader Adrian Dix has said he would raise income tax rates for people earning more than $150,000 and raise corporate income tax rates to 12 per cent.
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria