BC Liberal election candidates in Richmond gathered behind their leader Andrew Wilkinson Saturday to commit to an expedited rebuild of the Richmond Hospital acute care tower and to critique the NDP for delays on the project.
The infrastructure project is one of many that both parties are proposing as part of their economic recovery strategies — that focus on spending but have yet to specifically address debt management.
The BC Liberals have also jousted over a proposed hospital in Cloverdale (Surrey). That hospital plan also has no approved business case and both parties insist they can get it built quicker than the other.
The BC Liberals have committed $300 million as part of its $8 billion “Rebuild B.C." plan, said Stephanie Cadieux, BC Liberal Candidate for Surrey South on October 8.
Similarly the NDP has a three-year $9 billion economic stimulus plan for infrastructure spending.
Presently, the NDP government has accumulated $12 billion in COVID-19-related debt in 2020 ($10.6 billion in taxpayer supported debt). The total debt has risen from $76.4 billion before the pandemic to $87.9 billion.
Neither party has announced higher income or corporate taxes whereas the BC Liberals have pledged to axe the Provincial Sales Tax fully in 2021 and partly in 2022, costing an additional estimated $8 billion to provincial revenues but with the idea of stimulating economic activity and consumption.
Wilkinson was asked by media about his party's long-term fiscal planning. He replied that the right thing to do now is for government to spend.
“We all learned in the depression and World War II that there are times when spending is required. And this is one of them. We’ve had a massive shrinking of our gross national product in Canada; we all know about the second wave… we have an economy that’s in trouble and that’s a time when the borrowing power of government has to be used. Interest rates for government borrowing are extremely low so we have to make sure to look after the people of British Columbia,” said Wilkinson Saturday.
“The only way to get out of it is to get the economy growing again and make sure we have the growth to pay for it. It’s that simple," said Wilkinson.
BC Liberals and NDP spar over Richmond Hospital
Wilkinson criticized the NDP for delays on the rebuild of Richmond Hospital and other projects, such as the George Massey Tunnel replacement.
“It’s hard to point to anything the NDP have built. They’ve only completed BC Liberal projects and their newly initiated projects like the Pattullo Bridge and the hospital in Terrace; nothing has happened,” Wilkinson told a media event outside the hospital.
"Richmond residents need to know that our hospital will endure an earthquake. To date, we have seen promise after promise from John Horgan and the NDP government but no money and no action for this project," said Matt Pitcairn, the BC Liberal Candidate for Richmond-Steveston, in a statement.
NDP leader John Horgan committed to a new tower in spring 2017. Then, Vancouver Coastal Health had a concept plan but no business case under the BC Liberals. This, following reports in 2005 and 2011, under BC Liberal power, that showed the tower would likely collapse in a moderate earthquake.
Richmond Centre MLA Teresa Wat, who is seeking re-election, unveiled the initial tower concept plan before the 2017 election. Vancouver Coastal Health said then it would take 18 months, or until fall 2018, to draft a business plan (in an expedited manner).
The NDP has delayed the business plan two years, announcing this summer that the rebuild would be larger than the 2017 concept.
The NDP now says, according to spokesperson Tim Chu, “the business plan approval is expected in fall 2020 and should be approved imminently” with completion by 2024.
Wilkinson said his party approves of the expanded plan but casted shade on the NDP’s willingness to approve it in a timely manner. He provided no timeline for his own plan.
The provincial election is October 24 and mail-in ballots can be requested at Elections.bc.ca.