Opinion: NDP election promises come with hefty hidden price tags

Hefty hidden price tags

Sometimes, you just have to slap your head and wonder why you didn’t think of something sooner. Happens to everyone, too.

The BC NDP, for example, has been navigating the province through the pandemic and instituting a range of relief measures. It even produced a full-fledged economic recovery plan totalling about $1.6 billion a mere two-and-a-half weeks ago, with dozens of chickens in various pots.

But then, crazy thing, in all of the hurly-burly of dealing with the pandemic, it realized it hadn’t thought of just transferring money to bank accounts to support, say, those who might need an extra thousand bucks.

If you take its word, it at one point asked itself: Why hadn’t someone thought of this? Where was the brain trust of economists and financial wizards upon which the NDP so depend? How could this have been missed in all the discussions on what to do?

Luckily, an election had been called.

And thank heavens, because as of Tuesday we now have a version 2.0 of the plan, bathed in sober second thought.

The cheques will be in the email.

Mind you, that depends – not on those with household incomes of less than $125,000 (or as singles with incomes below $62,000) having a bank account to receive it today, although that would be convenient, and would have been a couple of weeks ago when the plan was revealed.

No, in order to get the money, the province must reelect John Horgan’s crew Oct. 24.

Now, a cynic would say – and not that I am one – that this had been the idea all along: buy the votes with a crass cash incentive. The NDP government wouldn’t be the first one to pay for the privilege of support.

But perish the thought, the premier insists: This was an idea that emerged between the recovery plan and the platform plan. Well, pardon anyone for hinting otherwise. Take the man at his word.

There are other elements of the NDP platform that intersect with the economic impacts of the pandemic that would have been helpful if clarified in mid-September: a year’s rent freeze, for instance, only happens if there is a second Horgan term. Same for children under 12 riding free on public transit. There are about 160 promises in the package, including another commitment to a (means-tested this time) $400 rent rebate. The ICBC rebate? Long promised. Free vaccines? Would be politically problematic to suggest anything otherwise.

The total bill of this is roughly the size of the plan with its ink barely dry, some $1.4 billion, so it has the feel of a buy one, get one free offering.

Only, of course, at some point it will dawn on the NDP – just as the transfer of tax dollars into bank accounts did – that there is no free money, no matter how senior governments work to convince us otherwise.

What will pay for this debt eventually will be either the most remarkable recovery in the last century or the most conventional tax grabs on those with bank accounts to transfer out of instead of into.

A four-year mandate will no doubt see not only this version 2.0 of the plan but very likely a version 2.0 of the pandemic. Where that money will come from is a guess that only the NDP can hazard, but hazardous it is bound to be.

The move Tuesday has the same calculated opportunism of the election call itself. If this spending is needed, and not just wanted, why was it not needed two weeks ago when there was no particular quarrel in the legislature that required a provincial vote?

Sure, set the cynicism aside, but let’s be real. The NDP worked all summer on a plan and decided parts of it – the parts that tangibly hit the bank accounts of the voters – would be more helpful to their fortunes if linked to the voters’ partisan ballots and not their bi-partisan needs. It won’t concede that, just as it wouldn’t concede the election call fit the definition of politics as an avenue of opportunism.

But it’s a sad statement on how the electorate can be the target of manipulation at its most vulnerable moment and a disappointing reminder of what skeptics worried an NDP administration would become.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.

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