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BC election: critical support for NDP

Adrian Long and Bradley Hughes

May 2, 2017

The BC NDP is trying to move with the leftward swing in politics around the world. They are pointing out the class nature of the contest between the party of the 1%, the BC Liberals, and the BC NDP, a party of union and other activists.  “The rich have had their premier. It’s time you had a premier that’s working for you,” said NDP leader John Horgan, at a recent rally in Vancouver, in the lead up to the May 9 election.

Regarding a few key issues for young people and working families in British Columbia, the NDP has offered some heartening policy solutions. Securing a $15/hr minimum wage within their first term, implementing a $10/day childcare plan, and building 114,000 “affordable rental, non-profit and co-op” housing units over 10 years are among the party’s commitments.

Investing in the future of labour

The NDP confronts the precarity felt by BC’s workers in two ways. On the one hand, they outline a stimulus package of infrastructure projects – restoring and repairing schools, hospitals, roads and transit – that they claim will create 96,000 real jobs and add $18 billion dollars in economic activity. This is good news for those let down by Premier Clark’s failure to deliver the 100,000 LNG jobs that she promised on the 2013 campaign trail.

On the other hand, they propose a set of moderate reforms to post-secondary education, including a cap on tuition increases and an elimination of interest on current and future student loans. However, given that tuition has nearly doubled in the past decade, such proposals can be regarded as progressive only in the context of reckless neo-liberal slashes to the public trust

Addressing poverty and the housing crisis

Many landlords have been exploiting a now-infamous “fixed term lease” loophole in order to raise rates upwards of 30 per cent on renters who wish to remain in their homes after a lease has ended. While the Liberal Party’s Housing Minister Rich Coleman has been reluctant to respond to this predatory behaviour, Andrew Sakamoto, the head of the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre, says the “simple fix” is to remove a problematic vacate clause within the Residential Tenancy Act. The NDP has committed to closing this loophole, and has promised a $400 yearly “renter’s rebate” in response to the Liberal’s “Homeowner’s Grant” that gives a $570 tax break to people who own homes worth less than $1.6 million.

Furthermore, they have proposed a yearly 2 per cent absentee speculators’ tax to crack down on empty residences. But is a mere 2 per cent a proper show of teeth to speculators who are hurting communities by treating homes like investments? What BC renters need, alongside the promised 114,000 affordable units, are strict and narrow rent controls that limit increases, and greater deterrents for absentee landowners.

The NDP have pledged to immediately raise all income assistance and disability rates by $100, and to reverse the Liberal’s cancellation of the BC Bus Pass program so that people with disabilities can once again ride for free. They have also committed to conduct an overdue province-wide homelessness count to inform a rolling-out of permanent housing and services. The terms are vague, but they echo the terms of a proposal  made in February by a Lower Mainland task force on homelessness.

BC’s overdose crisis

The province suffered 914 overdose deaths in 2016, representing a nearly 80 per cent increase of the previous year’s death toll. Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan is on record for supporting Bill C-37, which seeks to undo the Harper government’s amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) that have dangerously impeded supervised consumption services.

But the BC NDP needs to do more to address this crisis. Their platform focuses too much on expanding “police efforts” and “advocating for increased penalties”. As Don MacPherson, the Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, has stated, this “war on drugs” approach does not work to save lives. Fearing arrest, losing custody of children, or risking judgment from friends and family, witnesses to an overdose too often waver on whether to call for help, or in many cases simply do not make the call. The existence of mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related offenses unquestionably intensify fear of prosecution for witnesses of drug overdose and increase rates of preventable overdose deaths.

To offer a progressive program for this crisis, the NDP should put their full support behind Bill C-224 – titled the “Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act” – which amends the CDSA in order to exempt from possession charges a person who seeks emergency medical or law enforcement assistance for themselves or another person following an overdose on a controlled substance. Furthermore, the party needs to support every effort to make access to harm reduction services – such as those from Insite and Crosstown Clinic – more accessible. A progressive agenda treats addiction as a public health issue, not a criminal one.

Environment and energy

The NDP’s plan for sustainable growth attempts to navigate the tension between those opposed to resource projects (such as mines and Liquified Natural Gas pipelines) and the workers whose livelihoods depend on them. But Mr. Horgan should know that there is no such thing as sustainable growth for climate destroying projects like LNG, so this plan will either contribute to climate change or further alienate construction workers. The best alternative is public spending to create good paying, union climate jobs. The NDP is taking their first hesitant steps down this road, by promising to create 96,000 construction jobs replacing and repairing schools, hospitals, and transit. But only a stronger, more class conscious climate movement will be able to push them the rest of the way.

In an era of broken Liberal promises, Mr. Horgan’s commitment that all LNG projects may only go forward in full partnership with First Nations is a good start, but real action on climate change requires that most of the remaining fossil fuels stay in the ground. The NDP will require LNG projects to “respect our commitments to combating climate change.” This is the same failed strategy of the federal Liberals, approving tar sands pipelines while expecting GHG emissions to go down. Although the NDP’s proposal to send carbon tax rebate checks to 80% of families offsets the regressive nature of the tax, their greenhouse gas emission targets are only those of the current BC Liberal government.

Tax Cuts

The NDP have promised to reverse some of the Liberals tax cuts for the rich and their corporations by re-instating the high income surtax, increasing corporate income tax, and a few other changes they predict increasing revenues by between $1 billion and $1.4 billion a year. This is much too timid. By increasing corporate taxes to the rate they were at in 1999, and by increasing income tax on those earning more than $100,000 a year to the 1999 rates, a new government would have $5 billion dollars a year to start to fix the damage done by 16 years of the BC Liberals courting the rich. 

Vote NDP to unseat the corrupt Liberals!

As limited as the NDP platform is, it is by far, much better than the platforms of the Greens or the Liberals. However, there is a much more important reason to vote for the NDP. The NDP, no matter the politics of its leadership, is a party made up of working class activists. The people who fundraise, knock on doors, staff the phone banks and do all the other work to win a campaign, are working class people and often activists in their union or in other progressive organizations. In addition to this, the 1% know that the Liberals are their party and will do everything they can to defend the interests of the wealthy. If the Liberals lose, our bosses know they themselves have lost, and the rest of us know that the vote represents a vote for higher taxes on the rich, more spending on social services, and more action on climate change. Let’s unseat the party of the 1%, and after the election we can to get on with the work of building militant unions and a vibrant climate movement that can win against any government.

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