B.C. election campaign officially underway

The B.C. election campaign is officially underway.

Premier Christy Clark met with Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon at Government House in Victoria this morning to launch the 28-day race to May 9.

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In comments following the meeting, Clark reiterated the Liberal party’s plan to control spending, cut taxes and create jobs.

The Liberals hope to improve their chances with a “made-on-the-Island” platform that promises money for a new salmon research centre in Campbell River, an agricultural complex in the Comox Valley and airport improvements north of the Malahat. The platform also commits the Liberals to working with communities and the federal government to explore the possibility of submitting a late bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Victoria — now that Durban, South Africa, has lost the rights.

The Liberals, who also unveiled their full platform Monday, hold just two of 14 seats on the Island after losing Oak Bay-Gordon Head to B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver in 2013, and Saanich North and the Islands to the NDP’s Gary Holman.

A section of the platform dealing with B.C. Ferries, which was leaked over the weekend, promises a loyalty program by 2020 to cut costs for frequent users in ferry-dependent communities. Until that’s in place, the Liberals say they will create an interim tax deduction of 25 per cent of ferry fares up to $1,000 to offset costs to users in those same communities.

“I think saving a family up to $250 a year is substantial going forward,” said Comox Valley MLA Don McRae, who is retiring from politics, but led development of the Island platform. “For my family, we have two children, my wife, myself, it’s $110 each time we want to leave the Island and come back. If we leave two or three times a year, we’re actually saving over $100 a year.”

The platform also promises $1 million to improve Wi-Fi coverage for B.C. Ferries vessels and waiting areas.

Other Island-specific promises include:

• $5 million for construction of a new agriplex in Comox;

• $500,000 for Tourism Vancouver Island’s strategy to make the region a leading destination for hikers;

• $500,000 for a study to improve access to airports north of the Malahat; and

• $100,000 for the South Island Prosperity Project, which works with companies that want to grow within the region or relocate here.

Carole James, the incumbent NDP candidate in Victoria-Beacon Hill, said she’s gratified that the Liberals have finally discovered Vancouver Island after years of neglect. “It’s extraordinary that you have a government that for 16 years has ignored the issues, has increased ferry fares, has made life more challenging and now expects the public to believe that they’re going to fix everything,” she said. “It’s too little, too late. Islanders know that this is simply an election ploy and they see you can’t trust the government.”

James said the Liberals’ promise to improve Wi-Fi on ferries shows how out of touch the party is. “I get frustrated by the Internet on the ferries as well, but if you can’t afford to get off the Island or you’re paying for extra fares to get to medical appointments, the Internet isn’t your biggest worry,” she said.

James said the NDP is committed to making life more affordable for people by freezing B.C. Hydro rates if the party wins the election. “It’s probably one of the largest areas we hear concerns about in our office is the escalating hydro rates,” she said. “So a freeze while we get in there and clean it up and make it work for people again.”

NDP Leader John Horgan, who is expected to unveil his party’s full platform this week, also promised Monday to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on the Lower Mainland.

Weaver called the Liberals’ Island platform “shocking” for its lack of vision and original proposals. “They’re like a ship without a rudder now; they’re all over the map,” he said. “There’s really nothing here. They don’t have a plan; that’s the whole problem.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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