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BC Election 2017
BC Politics

A Rolling Christy Clark Gathers Untruths

Full-throated falsehoods from BC Liberal leader mount as finish line looms.

Jeremy Nuttall 2 May

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa, now back in B.C. covering the 2017 election.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

As Christy Clark travels down the campaign trail she keeps piling up stated falsehoods. Some might be explained away as just a bit of mischievous spin, like when she’s made it seem her government is pleased to spend millions more on teachers, when in fact it’s because the Supreme Court made them do it.

But mere spin can’t describe five brazen whoppers by Clark and her team — easily disproven statements they’ve stuck to nevertheless.

In each case the media, advocacy groups or a tweeting citizenry have tried to set the record straight. But “alternative facts” once loosed can take on lives of their own. Whether torturing the truth will cost Clark at the voting booth remains to be seen.

Here are five full-throated falsehoods from Clark and her party this election:

No, the BC Liberals are not driving down B.C.’s debt.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Since the 2013 election, as premier Clark has added $10.5 billion to the provincial debt, which is projected to rise to $77 billion by 2020.

Yet the BC Liberal platform released April 10 says Clark and her party are “on track to eliminate BC’s operating debt by 2021.” This carries on the theme of achieving a debt-free B.C. from the previous election in 2013, plus a $100-billion “LNG prosperity fund.”* That, however, was pinned to the province becoming a player in the international liquefied natural gas market, which has not materialized.

While the operating debt for day-to-day running of the province has been dropping steadily, the province’s wider debt load for things like hospitals and schools has increased.

In fact, over the last five years Clark has actually been adding debt at a rate 30 per cent higher than did the NDP of the 1990s.

But during her closing remarks during Wednesday’s debate Clark again went for the line that her government is taking on the provincial debt and eliminating it.

“You know where we stand, that’s a bigger economy, not a bigger government, it’s lower taxes, not spending sprees,” she said. “It’s making sure we’re investing in hospitals and schools and infrastructure. Not paying massive interest payments to banks in the United States and London.”

No, the Steelworkers who back the NDP did not conspire with Donald Trump to kill B.C. jobs.

Accusations that the BC Liberal government is in the pocket of unchecked political donors has been a theme this election, sparked by major stories in the New York Times, The Globe and Mail and other media. Christy Clark tried to tie an NDP donation from the United Steelworkers to Donald Trump’s softwood lumber threats, urging voters to conclude the union-backed NDP was really out to throw union members out of forest jobs in the province. That proved as far-fetched as it sounds.

Here’s the breakdown. The B.C. branch of the United Steelworkers Union contributed $670,000 to the BC NDP and is paying some of the NDP’s top staff this election.

The United Steelworkers represents workers in various industrial sectors in the United States as well as Canada.

At a campaign stop in Delta, Clark alleged the union’s international president Leo Gerard had met with United States President Donald Trump to discuss softwood lumber issues and that he aims to put U.S. jobs in the industry ahead of British Columbian forestry workers.

Gerard responded by accusing Clark of fabricating facts.

“BC Liberal leader Christy Clark has falsely claimed that my meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump was about softwood lumber — she just made that up. In fact it was about protecting our members’ jobs in the steel industry in both the U.S. and in Canada,” said the statement. “Clark even claimed she’s been to Washington, D.C. to defend B.C.’s lumber industry — she made that up too.”

As it turns out, Clark and her party have received big contributions from U.S. softwood interests, and also the company that owns Trump Tower in Vancouver.

No, the BC Liberals aren’t ‘now’ lowering MSP premiums to 1993 levels.

Under the BC Liberal government, MSP medical insurance premiums have soared, reaching $150 a month for a family of three.

During the debate last Wednesday, Clark said that thanks to action by her government, “now” B.C. has the Medical Services Plan premiums adjusted to the same rate they were in the early ‘90s. "MSP rates for most people are now down back at 1993 levels," Clark said. Actually, Clark and the BC Liberals have only said they will reduce the payments to the 1993 levels, but that wouldn’t come into effect until 2018.

British Columbia is the only province with a tax linked directly to health care.

No, British Columbia does not have Canada’s lowest middle-class taxes.

The BC Liberals often tout the province as having the lowest taxes for middle class families in the country and Clark has been hammering the point home during the election campaign. During leaders debates Clark often referenced low taxes for middle-class members and further cuts coming.

But Tyee legislative bureau chief Andrew MacLeod crunched the numbers, and they tell a different story. MacLeod drew on the B.C. governments own documents and found a two-income family making $60,000 a year pays about $2,400 more per year in taxes than they would in Alberta and about $1,200 more than they would in Saskatchewan. If the same family made $90,000 a year, they would pay $2,000 more in B.C. than they would in Alberta. If the figure was lowered to $30,000 per year there are four other provinces where the family would pay less tax than in B.C.

No, Linda Higgins did not say what Christy Clark says she said, nor was she an ‘NDP plant.’

Over the weekend Clark’s brush with a woman in a North Vancouver grocery store created a public relations problem for the BC Liberals. Campaigning with North Vancouver-Lonsdale candidate Naomi Yamamoto, Clark was approached by resident Linda Higgins.

Higgins shook the premier’s hand and said, “I would never vote for you because...” and was cut off by Clark who told her, “You don’t have to. That’s why we live in a democracy.” Clark then walked away from Higgins. The internet lit up with condemnation for Clark, and the BC Liberals then began a social media campaign trying to paint Higgins as an “NDP plant.”

Asked about the exchange later, Clark gave a different version of the events than the reality caught on camera and easy for anyone to see. “She said she didn’t vote for me last time, she’s never voted B.C. Liberal and she never will and she’s not going to vote for me again. Perfect. That’s her right,” Clark said. Actually, Higgins never got past “I would never vote for you because...”

Interviewed by The Province’s Mike Smyth, Higgins said she just wanted to make a point about housing prices and health firings. She said she was not an NDP member much less a “plant.” She was also stunned by Clark’s version of their exchange.

“I said no such thing to her,” Higgins told Smyth. “I didn’t say anything remotely like that. It was all on tape. I don’t know where she got that from or why she would say that about me.”

* Note: An earlier version of this story reported that the yet to materialize LNG-prosperity fund was $100 million. The B.C. Liberals actually promised it would be $100 billion.  [Tyee]

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