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Premier Clark adopts NDP, Green promises as throne speech looms

Premier Christy Clark continued to remake herself and the B.C. Liberals Wednesday by abandoning long-held party positions and claiming NDP and B.C. Green Party campaign promises as her own.

Premier Christy Clark continued to remake herself and the B.C. Liberals Wednesday by abandoning long-held party positions and claiming NDP and B.C. Green Party campaign promises as her own.

In the face of looming defeat in the legislature, Clark said Thursday’s throne speech will include a commitment to bring in a poverty-reduction plan — something she and her government have rejected for years.

“We are going to join the rest of the country in tackling this broadly,” she told a B.C. Liberal women’s lunch in Vancouver.

Clark also pledged to amend the provincial budget to add $1 billion over four years for child care and early childhood development.

“This is the biggest investment in British Columbia’s history in child care we’ve ever made,” she said. “And we’re going to do it over the next four years because families can’t wait and when you need child care you need it now.”

Clark said the investment will create 60,000 new spaces, while providing a full subsidy to families earning less than $60,000 a year and a partial subsidy for those earning less than $100,000.

“That means that 150,000 children will be eligible to get a subsidy to make child care more affordable for them,” she said.

In addition, Clark said the speech will talk about new investments to mend gaps in the mental health system, strengthen public transit and reduce wait times for hip and knee replacements — all issues that the Greens and NDP championed in the recent election campaign.

The Liberal promises follow other reversals earlier this week in which Clark pledged to end a 10-year freeze on welfare rates, tie disability assistance to inflation and ban union and corporate donations to political parties.

Clark, who failed to win a majority in the May election, said the throne speech will take the best ideas from all three parties as she tries to win the confidence of the legislature.

The NDP and Greens, however, were unmoved by Clark’s sudden interest in their policies and remain firm in their commitment to topple her government at the earliest opportunity — likely as early as next week.

“We’re really excited to see that the Liberals have had an awakening at the 11th hour,” B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said. But he insisted the Greens will honour their commitment to support an NDP minority government.

“The certainty’s there; we’ve said all along that we have an accord with the B.C. NDP.”

NDP Leader John Horgan, who met with his caucus in Victoria Wednesday, joked about Clark’s last-minute conversion.

“Apparently there’s going to be an NDP throne speech tomorrow,” he said, eliciting laughter and applause from NDP MLAs. “It is really hard to believe that after 16 years of ignoring child care, ignoring people with disabilities, ignoring income assistance rates, that all of a sudden, after the people have rejected you at the polls, that our platform looks pretty appealing.”

Horgan assured his MLAs that Clark’s attempts at a “do-over” will end soon enough once the NDP forms government.

“My message to the people back home in your constituencies right across British Columbia [is], ‘Help is on the way. Do not be distracted by the people behind the curtains who are trying to make you think that they care about you now, because they didn’t a month and a half ago and they won’t a month and a half from now.”

Clark said she simply listened to voters.

“The public has said to us, ‘You’ve got our province in great financial shape, now spend some of that money. Now make sure that we are spreading that around in one of the richest societies anywhere in the world.’ ”

Clark said she’s taking those lessons to heart and is determined to make sure that a Liberal government “looks, feels and is different” from the one she led for the past six years.

“There will be those who say we are only doing it because we want to get votes,” she said. “And what I would say to them is that the voters have spoken, they told us what they wanted us to do. It’s listening, it’s being flexible.”

As for how she’s going to pay for the suite of new promises, none of which were in February’s budget, Clark said the economy is growing faster than anyone predicted. “We’ve had a much bigger than expected surplus this year,” she said.

Clark promised to release more specifics about costing on Thursday. “We’ve worked through all the budgets,” she said. “We are not going to give up our core principles of making sure that we have a sound fiscal foundation in B.C.”

lkines@timescolonist.com