Les Leyne: It’s ‘us versus them’ from here on in

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Les Leyne mugshot genericPremier Christy Clark landed hard on three points at a B.C. Liberal rally in Victoria after the throne speech, and they’ll likely be big parts of the party’s election platform.


They are: the fundamental importance of jobs, the need to make home ownership affordable and the requirement on government to lighten the tax load so people can keep more of their own money.


The latter one started emerging in her speeches a few months ago. It got elevated on the priority list with its inclusion in the throne speech, in the form of a firm indication that the budget next week will do just that.


Hours later, she test-drove it again for 850 Liberal supporters at a $150-a-plate dinner, where the concept obviously got solid support.


After four successive surplus budgets, Clark said, the government should find ways to give some of that money back to taxpayers.


“Government always has great ways of finding new things to do. It’s always looking for ways to grow itself, at your expense. I think you need leaders who are going to say: ‘We don’t want government to keep growing, we want the economy to keep growing.’ ”


With a fifth surplus budget coming on Tuesday, Clark said: “If we are running a surplus, surely it doesn’t suggest we have more to spend. Surely it suggests … that government has taken too much away from taxpayers and maybe it’s time to put it back in your pocket.”


It’s a debatable proposition, but an undeniably popular one. There are dozens of examples where cash infusions to programs or projects aimed at the greater good could be argued as sound policy.


But who’s going to refuse a tax cut that could amount to hundreds or a few thousand dollars a year? When the B.C. Liberals slashed the provincial income tax rate by 25 per cent 15 years ago, there was a debate about whether it was wrong-headed.


Then-finance minister Gary Collins responded by setting up a system where people could effectively refuse the tax break. It brought in next to nothing.


The give-back, whatever form it takes, will put the NDP Opposition on the spot. After spending years accusing the Liberals of short-changing social programs, it’s the last thing they would advocate. But rejecting the idea means campaigning against a tax cut. That’s not a wildly popular stance, no matter how much they can justify it.


NDP Leader John Horgan said Wednesday he’d have to study the books before committing.


Clark was just as enthusiastic about jobs in general. Her government is on pretty solid ground on that theme, as B.C. has been posting good numbers for the past five years. She talked passionately about “decent paycheques” and the “dignity of a hard day’s work” as essentially the desire that built B.C.


B.C. climbed up the provincial rankings and now has the lowest unemployment rate compared to the rest of Canada since 1961, she said. It will be a point of pride in the Liberal campaign, and will be used as a goad on the NDP. Clark told supporters the Opposition has been saying no to the Site C dam, LNG and pipelines.


“They claim to support working people, but they don’t support work,” she said.


On the home-ownership front, Clark was equally enthusiastic, although she is on much shakier ground. Her government is embarking on a crash housing program, but was late in recognizing affordability as a crisis. The big push will be an important part of the campaign, and be used as a contrast with the NDP.


The recent program that provides up to $37,500 for first-time buyers will be cancelled if the NDP forms government, she said. “They want to invest in building social housing.”


But Clark pitched the difference as “cancelling a program that gets people into their own homes” in favour of “the government will build their homes for them and government will own their homes.”


“You pay for it, they own it. That is not better.”


Never mind that her own government is on both sides of that question, as it’s building social housing, too. All “us versus them” issues are welcome in the days ahead.


Just So You Know: Each point of the provincial sales tax is worth $900 million, not the $125 million reported here Wednesday. My mistake.


lleyne@timescolonist.com

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