After being outflanked on affordability, the BC Liberals need to go All In.
Second in a series on what the BC Liberal platform for the next election needs to include. Read Part 1 HERE.
I almost wasn’t born – because of the NDP.
In the leadup to the 1972 election (four years before I came along), my dad decided to vote for Dave Barrett and the NDP for one reason: Barrett promised to lower car insurance rates.
Old school pocketbook politics, which sounded good to a broke young guy like Dad.
Dad’s vote caused much consternation. Mom’s family were dyed-in-the-wool Socreds. I mean, so Socred that Grandma brags about being taught Sunday School by Ernest Manning himself.
The 1972 election almost snuffed out my mom and dad’s relationship. The marriage survived that debacle, although Dad had to swear to never vote NDP again. (He did, however, save money on car insurance for a few years.)
That story comes to mind when I think about the 2017 provincial election. In an election about affordability, John Horgan somehow out-tax cut the tax cutters. Yes, they were all just smoke and mirror promises, few of which have been delivered.
In fact, his NDP have hiked taxes by $5.5 billion – but for 28 days last spring, people believed him.
What an oxymoron: the tax-cutting NDP.
In the NDP’s 118-page platform, the words “afford,” “affordable,” or “affordability” showed up 68 times. Everything was couched in terms of whether it would make life more affordable for middle- and working-class British Columbians.
Very early in the campaign, even before the platforms were out, the BC Liberals thought they would get cute and cap bridge tolls.
The Liberals had brought in the tolls and defended them for years. But when they heard John Horgan was going to hold a big event in Surrey to kick off his election campaign, they rushed out a new promise to cap the cost of tolls annually at $500. That would have saved drivers like me $1,000 a year.
That morning, the Liberals were loud and proud on social media, needling the NDP and bragging about the $1,000 they were going to save drivers. They pointed out how NDP mayors and latte-sippin’, bike lane buildin’ urbanist elites loved to punish suburban drivers and how those lefties wanted MORE road tolls.
True to form, many of those NDP forces fought back on Twitter, saying the toll cap was reckless and would add congestion.
What did Horgan do when he got to Surrey that afternoon? The unthinkable for an NDPer. He turned his back on the urbanist elites who had just been defending him and announced the NDP would kill the tolls all together.
The downtown Vancouver NDP types practically fainted on social media. What’s Horgan doing? Doesn’t he know how wonderful road pricing is?
But Horgan knew he had those downtown Vancouver seats locked up. He wanted to bust into Surrey. And he did.
With one announcement, the script was flipped.
The BC Liberals, who were so proud of capping the tolls, now had to defend why there were tolls in the first place. One month later, six seats in Surrey and Maple Ridge – two cities impacted most by those tolls – flipped from the BC Liberals to the NDP. New Premier Horgan’s first act: eliminating the tolls, smiling broadly above a sign saying “Toll Free B.C.”
Brilliant tax cut politics – from a guy who leads a party that wholly believes in raising taxes.
This is a key lesson from the 2017 campaign: if you’re going to do something, go all in. The BC Liberals got cute trying to go halfway on cutting taxes, and lost the issue.
The half-in approach to cutting taxes cost the BC Liberals another vote motivator: MSP.
In their last budget before the election, the BC Liberals had promised to cut the hated Medical Services Premium tax in half, with an eye to elimination at some nebulous time down the road.
I had fought that tax for years. Families like mine were paying $1,800 in extra MSP tax – which went to general revenue, not health care. The tax had almost doubled in the years the BC Liberals were in power. The MSP tax is unfair (it was the same whether you earned $30,000 or $3 million), expensive to collect, and an unnecessary burden on B.C. taxpayers and small businesses.
The BC Liberals promised to cut the tax in half, saving us $900. The NDP matched that promise – and added another one, saying they’d abolish the whole thing by 2021.
Again, they out tax-cut the supposed tax-cutters.
Of course, we know the NDP’s real plan – hike taxes on employers to deliver that MSP “cut.” But back then, it just seemed like manna from heaven for overtaxed families.
As the BC Liberals craft their next election platform, they need to learn the lesson from the 2017 NDP (and the 2014 Trudeau Liberals, for that matter): Incremental isn’t electable anymore.
To borrow a line from columnist Robert Novak: The BC Liberals were put on this earth to cut taxes.
The BC Liberals have the advantage now.
The party is no longer the government. They do not have to defend the status quo; they can rip it apart.
They can propose bold tax cuts. They can challenge the NDP-Green coalition on affordability.
But they need to walk the talk in their platform. Half measures don’t cut it anymore. To break through the clutter of life and get attention, especially at election time, parties must be brave.
Don’t sweat things like media analysis. Did any of the criticisms of the NDP platform’s cost move voters away from them? No – and the media didn’t even bother scrutinizing the Greens’ insane tax-hiking platform.
So, BC Liberals, in this next platform, be bold in cutting taxes and reducing costs on British Columbians.
Figure out how to leave the most money in the most people’s pockets – and go for it.
Jordan Bateman has a long history of public policy work, championing small business and fiscal responsibility. Currently the Director of Communications for the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA), Jordan also served six years as the B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and was a two-term Langley Township Councillor.