So the writ in the BC election has been dropped and the first party to release their full platform was the BC Liberal Party. They launched their platform on Monday April 10 at llam (well that was the intended time, but the reality was that it was not launched until actually 11:15am).
Not only was the launch late, but initially the BC Liberal Party only made the platform available on flipsnack (behold it here) and did not enable the download button. What did this mean? Anyone with poor internet connectivity was left starting at blank pages for several minutes each time they “turned the page.” It also meant that those interested in particular items could not do a quick word search to go to areas of interest. This might not be a big deal to some, but it was such a headache for those of us trying to provide some commentary on the platform that it pretty much became a running joke through my commentary, like this one.
Oh but hey they’ll invest $40M into high speed internet connectivity by 2021 so I guess I’ll wait till then to be able to read the platform
— LindsayTedds🇨🇦🇬🇧 (@LindsayTedds) April 10, 2017
Fortunately, the BC Liberal Party eventually tanked the flipsnack link and provided a direct link to their platform in PDF. It was still a glossy, full colour, bandwidth sucking document but easier to deal with.
NOTE TO POLITICAL PARTIES: 1. Don’t piss off the wonks
Red card here. Premier’s dep chief of staff trying to correct the wonks. Give us the damned platform if you want us to get it right. https://t.co/lIqQ7OcaED
— Kevin Milligan (@kevinmilligan) April 10, 2017
2. it is not that hard to make a low rez, low bandwidth version of your documents available to those with limited connectivity or bandwidth caps, like those experienced in rural and remote communities, and many indigenous communities.
Overall, the platform is a bit of “meh.” Most of the goodies included were either announced in the Budget or are simply changes that would take place anyway (like the indexation of thresholds for certain tax credits). In fact, the only big ticket item was the MSP premium reduction. But even that is disappointing because the BC Liberal Party chose a morass of an implementation plan. Want to achieve the same thing, with more transparency and better target read me here or Iglika Ivanova here. The punchline is we could in fact, for much lower administrative and compliance costs, simply move the MSP into the tax system and get bigger bang for our buck, which is exactly what the BC Green Party is proposing. So the proposal of reducing and working to eliminate the MSP premiums is good, but the BC Liberals get a fail on their implementation plan. (The BC NDP are proposing to eliminate MSP all together but without their tax plan (yet), we don’t really know what it means).
Other items include a so-called interim tax “credit” for people living in ferry dependent communities. The “credit” will be in place until BC Ferries is able to design some sort of loyalty program for 2020. There is just so much here.
First, BC Ferries has been consulting Ferry fees for literally decades. There is no reason why BC Ferries can’t immediately implement a better aligned sets of fees on its ferries to address real and serious distributional concerns (including getting rid of the seniors discount).
Second, the BC Liberal Party can’t seem to get it right as to whether it is a tax credit or a tax deduction. Seriously, read the platform. It is called a credit once and a deduction all the other times. What is the difference? A lot. A tax deduction reduces taxable income. A tax credit reduces taxes owed. So the value of a tax deduction is dependent on your tax rate, whereas a tax credit is set to a fixed rate. In the case of this tax “credit” the BC Liberal Party sets the value at 25% so we know it is a tax credit and not a deduction. We also know that under the tax collection agreement with Ottawa, provinces can’t add tax deductions to the tax system as they must use the federal definition of taxable income. Now a little bit of very important detail is also missing from the platform: is this tax credit refundable or non-refundable and claimable by person or household? A refundable tax credit means that you’ll get the money back, nonrefundable means that you can only apply it to reduce your taxes owed to $0. So non-refundable tax credit have very little value to low income persons. In fact, according to the CRA tax filer statistics, 34% of BC tax filers have a non-taxable return. But allowing the tax credit to be claimed by the higher income person can partially offset that. Finally, in order to get the credit you have to be able to afford to take the ferry and hold onto your receipts for more than a year. All together this is still a credit that is only of value to higher income households. I also imagine the credit will not be as temporary as this platform alludes.
All together this tax credit strikes me as a pure electoral announceable that was not well planned or thought out. Worse, IMHO, is that the party that is touting themselves a fiscal stewards can’t get basic tax nomenclature right. Now that is embarrassing.
The platform also announces a host of other boutique tax credits, so boutiquey in nature they are completely embarrassing. Of course, once again, the platform does not indicate which are refundable and which are not, because, you know, details. But overall all these little tax credits only amount to about $35M in foregone tax revenues. But don’t forget most of that is going to higher income households. With this myriad of little tax credits there are three important things to remember. First, BC has to pay CRA to administer every single one of these tax credits. Second, these tax credits are promoted by the BC Liberals as a tax cut. That is just pure political BS. Say it with me: taxing everyone throughout the year only to give it back to a chosen few at tax time does not constitute a tax cut. You get all the distortions from the higher than necessary tax rates and little derived benefit from the tax credits. Third, not only do they not amount to much foregone revenue but they also do not amount to much for the individual tax payer. For example, the BC Child Fitness Tax Credit returns a whopping $28 to a household that claims the full amount and which owes taxes before the application of the non-refundable tax credit. Rather than have all these individual credits, at least the ones directed to families could simply be rolled up in the BC child tax benefit.
One last specific item I will mention, the platform looks to cap tolls on two of the big bridges on the mainland. Blake Shaffer wrote a good piece over in Macleans about this here. (I might quibble with the language of user fees since road tolls are much more likely to meet the conditions of a regulatory charge, but that is for another day) I’ll add that the $500 cap means that it is cheaper to drive than take public transit, meaning there will be no incentive, as there currently is, to ditch the car in favour of public transit. As a result, be prepared for increased congestion. The NDP are proposing to eliminate these tolls all together, which will just make a bad situation worse. And where will the revenue for maintenance and replacement come from?
There is very little in this election platform to address some of the very important policy issues in BC today, not the least of which is affordability (housing, kids, life). This is an election platform of a party who will continue with the status quo. Of course, if you are benefiting from the status quo, you might like this. But I judge policy based on how it treats the more vulnerable members in society and there is little in here for that. Of course whether this platform is better or worse than the other parties remains to be seen.