May 31, 2017

BC NDP-Green agreement offers historic opportunity for game-changing new policies

Mural at First United Church, Vancouver, BC. Photo: Goh Iromoto.
By and

What an interesting and exciting moment in BC politics! For a bunch of policy nerds like us at the CCPA, it doesn’t get much better than this.

On Tuesday May 30, the BC NDP and BC Green Party released the terms of their agreement to cooperate and grant legislative confidence to a minority NDP government. The full text of the agreement is impressive and hopeful. It is well-crafted, aimed at producing governmental stability, and encourages good faith cooperation (there is even a dispute resolution process).

The agreement lists many important policy areas where the two parties have found common ground, and where we can now expect to see positive and progressive changes.

Truly adopting these frameworks means a fundamental transformation of the relationship between the provincial government and Indigenous peoples.

Notably, one of the first topics highlighted in the agreement is the parties’ mutual support for adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision. The NDP and Greens have said that making our laws and policies compliant with these principles is “foundational” to the agreement.

This is no small undertaking, in the sense that truly adopting these frameworks means a fundamental transformation of the relationship between the provincial government and Indigenous peoples. It will require great respect and care, and a commitment not to limit the new government’s enthusiasm to tackling only the relatively easier aspects of the UN Declaration and TRC recommendations.

The first set of specific policies in the agreement speak to democratic and electoral reform, and they are excellent:

  • The parties share a commitment to proportional representation, promising to hold a referendum in the fall of 2018 (piggy-backing on the next municipal elections). Pending a YES outcome, a new electoral system would be put in place for the next provincial election. Both parties will actively campaign for a YES vote. Having a referendum a year and a half from now creates an incentive for both parties to cooperate in the spirit of this agreement in the meantime. More importantly, in order to boost the chances of a YES outcome, it’s an incentive to model the very type of cooperation minority legislatures usually require.
  • The commitments on election finance reform—meaning getting big money out of politics—are likewise very fulsome and thoughtful, mirroring the ideas in this recent CCPA blog post.
  • The parties wisely commit to shifting BC’s fixed election date from May to the fall of 2021, which allows for more budget transparency (as the books on the previous budget year will be closed by then) and is much better for making sure postsecondary students (many of whom are in transition in May) are able to participate actively as voters.
  • The legislature and its committees will be more active.

Not surprisingly, the agreement includes strong commitments on climate action:

  • Ramping up the carbon tax by $5 a year (starting next year);
  • Reforming and boosting carbon tax rebates to ensure a majority of British Columbian are better off (something the CCPA has long called for); and
  • A full strategy to meet our carbon emission reduction targets.

The parties will do whatever is in their power to prevent the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline (a project that already faces difficulties, and for which the provincial government is wise to withdraw its approval, as a CCPA/Corporate Mapping Project study released today shows). The agreement would also see the government immediately refer the Site C dam to the BC Utilities Commission for review.

Particularly gratifying for us at the CCPA is the agreement’s commitment to “design and implement a province-wide poverty reduction strategy.”

Particularly gratifying for us at CCPA is the agreement’s commitment to “design and implement a province-wide poverty reduction strategy”—something we have long advocated as founding members of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. This will include a Green Party platform idea of a pilot project to test a basic income. At long last, BC is no longer to be the only province in Canada without a plan. And not a moment too soon; last week Statistics Canada released income data for 2015 and, sadly, BC has reclaimed its spot as having the highest poverty rate in Canada (based on the Market Basket Measure): our poverty rate rose from 13.2% in 2014 to 14.8% in 2015.

There are commitments to improve fairness and protections for workers, raise the minimum wage, eliminate MSP premiums, improve transit infrastructure, restore forestry jobs, expand public drug coverage, strengthen seniors’ community care, implement a Mental Health and Addiction Strategy, enhance postsecondary access and affordability, “fast-track” the restoration of K-12 funding, improve numerous public services, and much more (it’s worth reading the full agreement).

The agreement is silent, however, on a number of important policies:

  • The desperate need to increases welfare benefit rates (though both parties promised to boost rates in their respective election platforms and we certainly hope this would be a centerpiece of a poverty reduction plan);
  • The need to increases taxes on upper-income people and corporations, in order to make our tax system fair and tackle inequality (nor does the agreement specify how to replace the substantial and needed revenues that currently come from MSP premiums—something the CCPA has modelled in a manner that would see most families pay less on balance); and
  • There is no mention of LNG or natural gas fracking (an area where the two parties have differing views).

And the agreement is notably vague in a couple key areas at the root of the affordability crisis, namely housing and child care. Both parties made very good promises on these fronts in their respective platforms, and the agreement commits them to action, but without specifics.

That said, the agreement notes at the start that, “It is not intended to lay out the full program of a New Democratic Government, nor is it intended to presume BC Green support for initiatives not found within this agreement.” So there will be more to come on all these fronts.

This is just the beginning, not the end

As we wrote immediately after the election, “If history teaches us anything, it’s that the struggle for social change doesn’t end on election night. Rather, that’s just the beginning.”

It is vital that those who desire progressive social change keep the pressure up. We need to encourage the next government to be truly ambitious in its poverty reduction, housing, childcare, climate and jobs plans. Now is not the time to give up the momentum for sizeable welfare rate increases, the $10-a-day child care plan, a bold build-out of social and co-op housing, or a revitalization of the province’s forestry industry.

As hopeful as this historic agreement is, this is not the time for progressives to go quiet, to be uncritical, or “leave it to the politicians.”

Moreover, while there is much excitement today, in short order the forces in our province that oppose this policy agenda will quickly mobilize to challenge it. They will predictably warn that it is dangerous to the economy and “too expensive.”

It will fall to us to insist these changes happen—to keep demonstrating that they are indeed desperately needed and entirely reasonable. And by us, we mean we the majority of people who stand to gain a more secure life for ourselves and our communities, who know our economic security is inseparable from a healthy environment and climate, and who want to find out what justice and reconciliation can mean when we finally move beyond the narrow politics of negotiation to embrace Indigenous rights and title.

And in that context, the work of the CCPA and the many other important civil society groups, activists and progressive leaders in BC will remain as important as ever. As always, we welcome your support.

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