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Les Leyne: Promises, promises from B.C.’s NDP

If criticism for not doing things can be inferred as commitment those things should be done, the New Democrats are writing a long, expensive to-do list, if they win the May election.

If criticism for not doing things can be inferred as commitment those things should be done, the New Democrats are writing a long, expensive to-do list, if they win the May election.

Opposition leader Adrian Dix has repeatedly tried to dampen expectations if he wins the vote. But somebody needs to tell his caucus that.

Because as a group, they’ve made a lot of implied promises with no indication of where the money will come from to pay for them.

Here’s a random sample of their wish list from just the past seven days of the legislative sitting:

• Norm Macdonald (Columbia River-Revelstoke) said the NDP wants a mandate to “be investing in our public lands.”

“The next government will be significantly constrained financially. Despite that, New Democrats believe it is crucial to invest in the land. We have to invest in the land because it is our most valuable asset and because there is a great need.”

The experts tell him $15 million more is the minimum needed to maintain Crown forest land in one area.

“We know we will realistically need four to five years to get to a meaningful level of replanting, and we know that we need to start now.”

• Doug Routley (Nanaimo-North Cowichan) said all industries are “calling out for increased investments in skills training and apprenticeships.”

“B.C. deserves a bigger, broader, more comprehensive vision, and we on this side of the house will make positive proposals around a vision for the future.”

(He also wants more money for a historic mining park in his riding.)

• Sue Hammell (Surrey-Green Timbers) complained “there is no plan to combat poverty and not even the smallest commitment to reduce it.”

• Robin Austin (Skeena) argued in favour of a science initiative for school kids. “If you want to change the culture of how B.C. families regard science, you can’t do that with a one-year grant ... It has to be ongoing.”

• Rob Fleming (Victoria-Swan Lake) tabled a motion urging that B.C. take back jurisdiction over the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline environmental review. That would involve re-doing the protracted and expensive federal process that’s been underway for months.

• Claire Trevena (North Island) said: “There’s a desperate lack of services for children, a desperate lack ... Wait lists ... lack of funding ... There is nothing in this budget that will give any relief for those families.”

• The health-budget hike is $233 million less than projected last year, which she said will mean cuts across the board. “People deserve better.”

• Combined with countless earlier criticisms of cuts and calls for better funding, the NDP’s budget position is simply: More of everything, now.

Some of it can be discounted as just the traditional role of the Opposition. But if they win the election and find their list hard to achieve, it’s hard to explain that to people who thought they would boost funding, if elected. “Oh, we were just saying that because it’s expected.”

In the public record and in private meetings with dozens of groups, the NDP is pretty clearly committed to spending more.

As for paying for all of it, the only indications as to how are a corporate income tax hike and an income tax hike on the more affluent. That won’t even come close.

B.C. Liberals stole both those ideas and, according to the NDP, are still coming up short of what’s needed.

It goes a long way to explaining why Dix, finance critic Bruce Ralston and nearly every other critic in the party have been so insistent that the Liberal budget isn’t really balanced.

The more doubt they can build about that claim, the less pressure on them to meet the same standard.

Just So You Know: Going back almost 40 years, every first budget following a change of government has been in deficit. And the same reason was given for each of those three cases: Because the previous government cooked the books.

The incoming Socreds in 1975 found a “staggering” hidden deficit when they took over.

The new NDP government in 1991 hired an independent panel to find a deficit three times bigger than their predecessors had claimed.

And the new B.C. Liberal government of 2001 did exactly the same thing, inheriting a balanced budget, but finding a previously unknown “structural deficit.”