Horgan, Clark spar in first leaders' debate

Christy Clark warns of $6 billion funding gap in NDP plan

NDP Leader John Horgan, Liberal Leader Christy Clark and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver square off.

Housing, the high cost of living and gridlock emerged as the top provincial election issues discussed in the first leaders debate April 20 featuring NDP Leader John Horgan, Liberal Leader Christy Clark and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver.

The debate, hosted by News 1130 and moderated by Bill Good, had a few testy moments, as Horgan frequently talked over Clark and became frustrated at points, including when Clark said his party’s platform has a $6 billion funding gap.

The NDP’s platform features several big ticket spending promises. It includes $10 billion in capital spending for things like public transit, new schools, affordable housing and universal day care.

Asked how he planned to pay for his pledges, Horgan reiterated his plan to raise taxes on those making $150,000 a year or more, increase corporate taxes and use $500 million from the government’s Prosperity Fund.

Horgan insisted the NDP plan is fully costed. But Clark said there is a “$6 billion hole” in that plan and suggested both the NDP and Green plans are unaffordable.

“Don’t imagine that if they’re going to carve a $6 billion hole with just 14 promises in our budget that we’re not going to end up once again being the highest taxed jurisdiction in the country and the highest unemployment jurisdiction,” Clark said.

Horgan said it was "not true" that his platform has a $6 billion funding gap and defended his party’s plan to increase public spending on things like new schools. Horgan said the Surrey school board had at one point asked the municipality to stop approving new housing permits because the schools simply can’t cope.

“If we make public sector investments in building schools we can then build communities,” Horgan said. “That creates economic activity.”

Clark said her plan is to help more British Columbians own homes, while the NDP’s plan is to help renters with rebates and new affordable and rental housing.

When asked why someone renting an expensive suite in Coal Harbour should get a rebate, Horgan suggested that the rebates might be income tested.

Weaver said “sixteen years of mean-spirited policies” under the Liberals have contributed to making Vancouver unaffordable and growing income disparity.

The Green Party’s plan to address soaring real estate prices is to double the foreign buyers tax to 30%, extend it throughout the province, make the property transfer tax progressive, and prohibit anyone from buying agricultural land over five acres if they don’t reside and pay taxes in Canada. The Greens would also bring in a speculation tax and a capital gains tax that exempts homeowners who lived in their homes for at least fives years.

“We’re trying to ensure that the speculative market is actually tempered,” Weaver said.

The Green’s plan for addressing affordability also includes introducing a basic income. Clark said she agreed with parts of the Green Party’s plans on addressing housing affordability.

Her government plans to spend $1 billion building affordable housing.

“But we are equally focused on making sure people get into a home that they own,” she said.

The Liberal government has a no-interest loan program to help first-time home buyers come up with down payments.

Horgan said Clark seemed to consider renters “second class citizens” and said the reality is that many Lower Mainlanders simply cannot afford to ever buy a home because their wages are too low. The NDP would eventually raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“It’s not that simple,” Horgan said of home ownership. “It may be like that in the first class lounge, Miss Clark, but in the rest of the world people are struggling.”

Asked why the Liberals have suddenly decided to cut tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges, Clark said “because we can afford it, Bill.” Good responded that the Liberals also want seats south of the Fraser.

Weaver said a Green government would keep the bridge tolls in place, saying that user the user pay principle is “good public policy.”

Clark was challenged on moving ahead with the $3.5 billion George Massey Tunnel replacement project, but with no plan to relieve the congestion that will occur on the Oak Street Bridge as a result.

Both the NDP and Greens prefer to spend more on public transit. Horgan said the NDP would twin the George Massey Tunnel, not replace it with a new bridge.

The Liberals have been accused of moving ahead with the Massey Tunnel replacement project at the expense of other transit priorities laid out by TransLink's Mayors Council on Regional Transportation.

The council is undertaking a study to look at things like tolls and mobility pricing, in an attempt to find regional funding source to pay for new transit infrastructure.

But Clark said a re-elected Liberal government would approve no new taxes for TransLink without the consent of all B.C. voters.

"We are still committed to making sure that, if there is any new revenue source required from cities, or from TransLink, we will go to a referendum on that," she said. "We won't just let them hike taxes."

Weaver said a Green government would use revenue from increased carbon taxes to provide the local funding needed for things like public transit.

On child care, the Liberals have committed to building 4,000 new child care spaces. A federal government commitment to day care would add another 4,000 Clark said.

The NDP is pledging a $10 per day universal child care plan. But Horgan admitted it will take 10 years to fully implement.

“You’re not going to deliver it until kids have drivers licences,” Clark quipped.

On MSP premiums, the NDP and Liberals have both pledged to phase them out, although there is now some question on whether the Liberals are fully committed to that aim. The Liberals plan to initially halve MSP premiums but have made no firm commitment on when they will be fully phased out.

Horgan characterized the Liberals’ pledge to halve MSP premiums as hypocritical, given how much they have increased since the Liberals were re-elected in 2013.

“They doubled them until their jobs were on the line,” Horgan said.

Weaver said a Green government would move to an Ontario model, where citizens would still pay health care premiums, but based on income, with people at the low end paying nothing and those at the upper end paying up to $900.

“It will be progressive,” Weaver said.

On the Site C dam, Horgan has vowed to review the project, while Weaver said the Green Party would halt the project.