Not sure what to make of the sometimes-murky promises being made by British Columbia's politicians as they campaign for your vote? Want to know how the different party platforms compare?
So do we! That’s what our Swamplight work is all about. Our lab at the University of BC has crunched the numbers to make sense of the Liberal, NDP and Green party promises. You can read the full report here: http://bit.ly/GS_SwamplightBC2017
Gen Squeeze is non-partisan. We genuinely don’t care who you vote for, so long as you choose to vote for someone.
For too long, younger people have been less likely to show up on voting day, which has resulted in political parties showing less urgency to solve the big problems facing our generation.
WHAT YOU'LL FIND ON THIS PAGE
Evidence-based analyses about a wide range of commitments in the platforms relating to:
Housing (for which we provide the most detailed analysis),
Our analyses are guided by a vision of BC that works for all generations. Our evidence-based policy recommendations can be found here. We analyze the platforms in terms of how they stack up to these recommendations.
If you like the way things are, then you’ll probably be most excited by the BC Liberal platform.
If you want to refine the way things are, then you’ll probably be keen on the BC NDP.
If you want bolder changes to the way things are, then you’ll probably like the BC Greens.
TOTAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING
Our Swamplight looks three years into the future – the fiscal year 2019/20 – to estimate how each party would spend taxpayer money once it’s had a few years to implement its priorities.
- The BC Liberals plan to spend $51.7 billion.
- The BC NDP would spend $52.9 billion that year.
- The BC Greens would spend $55.3 billion.
All three parties are in the same ballpark. By the numbers, it’s hard to say that one particular party is a “Big Spender” or “Reckless Spender” compared to the others. The NDP would spend 2% more than the Liberals. The Greens would spend 7% more than the Liberals.
GOVERNMENT SPENDING BY AGE
Three years from now, after adjusting for inflation, each party plans to find more money its budget to spend on older and younger British Columbians.
The BC Liberals will spend approximately $600 more per person age 65+. The NDP will spend $750 more. The Greens will spend around $800 more.
The Liberals will spend approximately $100 more per person under age 45. The NDP will spend around $400 more. The Greens will spend around $1,200 more.
While all the three parties are in the same ballpark when it comes to spending more money on seniors, there is a big difference between them when it comes to investing more in younger generations. The Green party makes investing in young people a much bigger priority than the Liberals or NDP. Almost all of the extra spending that the Greens plan by comparison with the other two parties will be allocated to younger generations. At the same time, it is important to note that the Greens match or surpass the other parties in terms of investing in seniors.
If you want the details behind these calculations, check out Tables 2, 3 and 4 below. If you are content with the punchline, skip to the "Piggy Bank" graphic below and carry on reading.
Interpreting the new spending by age
Coming into the 2017 election, provincial government spending on medical care, education and social services invested approximately $11,300 per person age 65-plus, compared to $7,300 per person under age 45.
The graphic above shows how the parties plan to spend new money by 2019/20 in order to maintain or adapt those spending levels, after adjusting for inflation.
The new spending for seniors promised by the three parties primarily adapts for the fact that the proportion of British Columbians over age 65 is growing. Additional investment is required for the entire age group in order to stabilize the higher spending per person at this older life course stage when citizens use more medical care.
The new spending proposed for residents under age 45 by the NDP will contribute primarily to additional child care. The new spending proposed by the Greens will pay primarily for investments in child care and K-12 education.
Generation Squeeze research has shown that BC’s economy fails younger generations so long as home prices leave behind our earnings (http://bit.ly/GS_BCworsteconomy). We’ve made this one of the BIG issues in the election. For example, housing affordability was the first question asked in the only televised leaders’ debate.
We have encouraged all parties to embrace the principle of “Homes First. Investment Second.” This principle reminds us that the primary purpose of the housing market is the efficient supply of suitable homes that are in reach for what typical people can earn. It’s fantastic if people can make a return on their housing investments, but those returns must now be a secondary consideration to first keeping homes in reach.
Of the three parties, only the Greens explicitly endorsed this Homes First principle.
All three parties commit to spend more on housing, and they are all in the same ballpark in terms of proposed levels of investment (with the NDP and Greens investing somewhat more than the Liberals). These commitments are important, especially to preserve and grow the existing stock of social housing that costs less than prices set by the market.
At the end of the day, the parties can’t spend their way to making housing affordable for younger generations. The public investments for which they budget in their platforms won’t even add 1% to the stock of existing homes.
To keep home prices in reach, the parties need to correct market failures by
- Promoting supply by adapting out-dated zoning policies that limit the supply of suitable homes
- Moderating demand by revising out-dated tax policies that shelter housing wealth from taxation in inefficient ways, while
- Leveling the playing field between renters and owners.
Here’s where the three parties stand on these three issues:
Supply: Adapting out-dated zoning policies
In keeping with the Gen Squeeze recommendation that the province incentivize municipalities to increase supply by changing zoning, the BC Liberals commit to “a performance-based approach in providing provincial assistance,” and “using incentives to reward jurisdictions for achieving efficiencies and target outcomes.” That said, the Liberals don’t refer specifically to zoning problems.
The NDP speaks generally to adding density, especially around transit hubs, but makes no specific reference to zoning, or creating incentives to reward municipalities that add density urgently.
The Green party commits to “lead a comprehensive rethink of zoning.” It’s the only party to refer specifically to revising zoning, but it’s not clear what incentives, if any, they would use to encourage municipalities to add supply urgently and efficiently.
Demand: Revising out-dated tax policies
The BC Liberals will stick with what they’ve already done via the foreign buyers’ tax in Metro Vancouver, province-wide changes to the property transfer tax, and changing legislation to permit cities to tax vacant homes. Real estate data show that home prices have continued to leave behind young people’s earnings since the Liberals introduced these changes.
The BC NDP will add a new tax – an annual levy on vacant homes that is equal to 2 per cent of the home value. It’s expected to collect around $200 million per year in revenue. By comparison with other revenues sources, that’s not much. So the impact of this policy proposal to rein in home prices is unlikely to be dramatic.
The Greens propose the boldest changes. Of the three parties, they are the most serious about using tax policy to ensure home prices no longer leave young people’s earnings behind, and thereby make life more affordable for younger British Columbians.
We don’t often think that taxing something will make it less expensive, because a government levy adds cost on top of the market price. But historically, Canada has been sheltering housing wealth from taxation in ways that other assets are not sheltered. This has increased demand for housing, and led to higher prices in the real estate market that make life unaffordable for younger generations. Eliminating outdated policies that shelter housing wealth from taxation is an important tool to slow down the rise in home prices, while also raising revenue to invest in building housing supply, child care, health care, etc.
The Greens appear most committed to change outdated housing tax policies. Yet in doing so, one might charge the Greens with embracing almost every new tax policy proposal that has been featured over the last year by thought leaders. This leads to questions about how the policies will interact, whether they cohere together in a comprehensive way, or whether there is some duplication.
Levelling the playing field between renters and owners
The BC Liberals are going with the status quo.
The BC NDP and BC Green parties propose similar changes to the Residential Tenancy Act to promote security of tenancy for renters who have faced loopholes that result in dramatic rent increases or evictions.
The NDP also proposes a $400 annual credit for renters. While this change won’t fundamentally make rent more affordable by comparison with the past, it does recognize that renters don’t benefit from a tax break that home owners receive through the home owners grant. This commitment to fairness in public subsidies between owners and renters is a laudable policy change.
In the lead up to the election, Generation Squeeze worked hard to convince all parties that child care should no longer cost as much as mortgage-sized payments for young British Columbian families who already struggle with far higher home prices than in the past.
In the 2017 election, this is one of big issues on which the parties diverge.
The BC Liberals will invest a little more money in child care – about 2% of the additional investment required to build a good child care system.
The BC NDP embraced Gen Squeeze’s recommendation of $10/day child care. According to its platform, the NDP will invest $400 million more on child care by 2019/20 – an amount that is just over 25% of the cost of our recommendation. It’s a decent start so long as an NDP government would ramp up its spending more urgently thereafter.
The Greens didn’t explicitly embrace our $10/day child care recommendation. But more than other parties, the Greens responded to the urgency with which Gen Squeeze called on politicians to invest in child care services.
The Greens will invest around $1 billion more in child care by 2019/2020 to bring costs down for parents – often aiming to make child care free (after taxes). That’s about two-thirds of what a good, fully-developed system will cost, and more than double the NDP investment after three years. The Greens don’t yet have a detailed plan to show how it will invest this money. There are lots of details in our $10/day plan from which the Greens could borrow.
In keeping with the Gen Squeeze emphasis on investing in child care services and parental time at home, the Greens will also invest $500/month in households where a parent is home with a child under age three when they are not using child care services.
One note of caution on this policy proposal. Evidence from other countries shows that this kind of government spending can reinforce the gender division of labour and the gender earnings gap if the money is not spent carefully in ways that attract both dads and moms to use the time at home with their children. This is a design detail that Gen Squeeze emphasizes in our recommendation to increase the length and monetary value of parental leave benefits.
KINDERGARTEN TO GRADE 12
Both the Liberals and NDP plan to spend nearly identical annual amounts on grade school in 2019/20 – about $6.8 billion.
Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada required the BC Liberals to invest more in public education as a result of the way it handled previous contractual negotiations with the BC Teachers Federation. The Liberals started to do so in their most recent budget.
The BC NDP, which had been calling for more investment for many years, has agreed to match, and slightly surpass (by less than 1%) the Liberals.
By 2019/20, inflation whittles away at the initial increase of $170 million by both the Liberals and NDP so that there is not much extra spending three years from now.
The BC Green platform distinguishes itself from the other two parties by proposing to invest an additional $1.4 billion for Kindergarten–to-Grade-12 education by 2019/20. That’s 20 per cent more than the BC Liberals or NDP promise.
There’s not much to choose from between the three parties on this issue. All three platforms propose spending around $6.6 billion, and are within 2% of one another.
We leave you to judge whether this is good or bad. Even though undergrad tuition increased more in BC since 2001 than in any other province, tuition in BC remains below the national average. As a result, all three BC political parties are committing to invest considerably more per capita in postsecondary than, for example, Ontario does.
All three parties are proposing to spend almost identical annual amounts on medical care – around $21.7 billion in 2019/20. After inflation, that’s around a $900 million increase by comparison with today.
The majority of the increase in medical care goes to the 20% of the population that will be over age 65 in that year, as we would expect and want because people are more likely to use medical care in their later years. This increase includes additional money for seniors in residential care, for seniors who remain in their own homes, and for seniors who wind up sick at the hospital.
For both the Liberals and the NDP, the incremental increase to medical care spending documented in their platforms is their largest single investment. Consistent with the figures reported above, this explains why both parties propose to increase spending on seniors more than on younger residents.
The Greens match the Liberal and NDP investments in medical care, but medical care is not the Green Party’s largest incremental increase. The Greens would add more to child care and public education than to medical care. That’s a big deal, because no party has done (or campaigned to do) this in decades.
The Green Party invests more in the generations raising children in recognition that health doesn’t begin with the medical care we receive only once we are sick. Health begins where we are born, grow, play, work and age. There is a well-established body of research in population health that supports investing more urgently in early child development and public education in order to promote well-being and prevent ill-health. Over time, the evidence suggests we will reduce medical care costs because fewer people will become sick.
The BC Liberals campaign on the idea that the best anti-poverty policy is a job. As a result, they haven’t proposed any noteworthy new strategies to address poverty or low-income issues, which tend to be higher in BC than most provinces.
The Liberals are right that jobs are important. But jobs definitely are not enough in an economy where home prices have left behind earnings – even for those lucky enough to land full-time jobs, let alone those working more precariously, or those with disabilities.
The BC NDP and BC Greens would use some of their extra spending to invest more in income and shelter assistance, as well as increase benefits for those with disabilities. If this issue shapes your voting, then you should know that the Green Party would increase investments in assistance rates by over three times more than the BC NDP.
How would the NDP and Greens pay for their extra spending?
The NDP will spend 2% more than the Liberals. It will pay for this extra spending by
- Raising taxes on those earning more than $150,000
- Raising corporate taxes in BC to the rate they are in Alberta
- Taxing more things that we don’t want – like empty homes and carbon pollution
- The NDP will pay for some of its new spending by reallocating existing government spending
- The NDP also thinks some of its new spending will stimulate additional economic growth, and yield more government revenue as a result.
The Green Party will spend 7% more than the Liberals. It will pay for this extra spending by growing revenue using strategies that are similar to what the NDP proposes. Since the Greens plan to spend more, they will
- Price pollution at a higher level than the NDP or Liberals
- Tax speculation and wealth in the housing market more than the NDP or Liberals
- Whereas the NDP and BC Liberals plan to cut MSP premiums and make do without that revenue, the Greens will swap the MSP for increases to payroll and income taxes.
- The Greens are also more likely to run a deficit than the other two parties. While its platform claims it will balance the budget over a four year mandate, our lab shows that it relies on achieving more savings from reallocations than would the other parties in order to achieve a balanced budget.
LOOKING FOR MORE?
Check out this 8-part mega infographic showing how going into this election, B.C. has the worst performing economy in Canada for younger generations.
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