VANCOUVER, B.C. - In their first full day of campaigning on Wednesday, the B.C. Liberals released an election platform notably missing the type of big-ticket incentive spending the voting public has come to expect of electioneering governments.
The Liberals have already said they'll spend in the red as B.C. struggles with the current worldwide economic recession, but they've also said they'll do it sparingly.
And that leaves little room for manoeuvring for either the governing Liberals or the Opposition New Democrats, who released a startlingly similar plan for the province's future last week.
Both parties laid out plans for some deficit spending - the Liberals for two years, the NDP for three - to fend off hard times, followed by balanced budgets.
Gordon Campbell's Liberals say they will increase health-care spending by $4.8 billion in total by 2011-12 and boost education spending.
Carole James's New Democrats promise to increase health spending by $600 million more than that - about one per cent - over those three years, as well as freeze tuition and up education spending.
The Liberals have long promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 and develop a cap-and-trade system to reduce overall emissions. The New Democrats say they will continue that commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions and work on developing a continental cap-and-trade plan.
The Liberals promise cuts to corporate and small business taxes in an effort to stimulate growth and jobs. The New Democrats promise a tax holiday for small business for the same reason.
The most glaring difference between the two platforms is also, perhaps, the most surprising to the parties' traditional supporters: The Liberals remain committed to their controversial carbon tax while the New Democrats promise to scrap the environmental levy.
Campbell said the New Democrat plan will wreak further havoc on the B.C. economy.
"During these turbulent economic times, our economy can ill afford higher taxes, higher costs and more uncertainty under an inexperienced NDP government," says the platform, which has been posted to the party website.
The platform says the NDP plan has "reckless and irresponsible policies" that will return the province to the weak economic position it faced in the 1990s.
"In today's circumstances, our economy needs an experienced team with practical solutions that work. That's what our team and our plan is all about," it says.
Campbell says his party's election platform lays out what he calls pillars to keep B.C. strong.
The platform promises help for students and seniors, but also focuses heavily on employment and workers.
Campbell said the Liberals will propose to the federal government a new program that would extend employment insurance benefits for workers who exhaust current benefits. The platform does not say exactly what the they'll ask for.
"We have a comprehensive plan to build the stability, confidence and opportunities that British Columbians deserve," Campbell said in Vancouver after releasing the platform.
"You need a strong economy to provide the best in public services."
Many of the measures promised in the Liberal platform have been previously announced by the government and laid out in the February budget.
James said the Liberal platform does nothing to address the problems facing B.C., and in fact will increase taxes for average families and small businesses while the Liberals cut programs.
"Eighty thousand jobs lost in the first three months of this year alone, seniors struggling to get care, students who are unable to afford post-secondary education. Those are the challenges facing the people of this province and the platform did absolutely nothing to address those challenges," she said while campaigning in Metro Vancouver.
Campbell is seeking a third term when British Columbians go to the polls May 12.