VANCOUVER — The B.C. Liberal party says it would implement a new economic response plan to the COVID-19 pandemic within 60 days if it wins the Oct. 24 provincial election. 

In the party’s platform, the Liberals say the plan would involve eliminating the PST for a year, launching a comprehensive review of regulatory processes to ensure more timely approvals, and establishing an emergency pandemic response committee to work with all parties and the provincial health officer. 

“It’s time to restore confidence and rebuild B.C. for our future and for future generations to come,” Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said at a platform launch event Tuesday in Vancouver. 

The biggest promises in the platform have already been announced during the campaign, including the temporary PST elimination and the opening of public auto insurance to competition. 

Among the new pledges is the appointment of an independent Fair Tax Commission to review all provincial taxes and recommend adjustments, reductions or eliminations to fuel economic recovery.

The Liberals would also prepare legislation to ban early elections during provincial emergencies, and implement a provincewide framework for hybrid and online learning for children.

Wilkinson pledged to balance the budget after the pandemic is over but said that would not come at the cost of social programs, as it has under previous Liberal governments. 

“This is much more serious than the 2001 recession. This is more like a wartime scenario. We have to borrow money at very low interest rates to get B.C. building again, to make sure that B.C. is prospering again, that’s how we’ll grow our way out of this,” he said.

The plan involves $2 billion in new operating spending. A B.C. Liberal government would operate on deficits for the next several years, like most of the Western world, Wilkinson said. 

“My personal goal is to say within five years of receiving the vaccine we need to have a balanced budget in British Columbia again.”

NDP candidate Selina Robinson questioned how a Liberal government would pay for its promises without cuts to services.

The previous Liberal government doubled premiums for the medical services plan and increased other costs, while giving tax cuts to the rich, she said.

“That kind of money has to come from somewhere and it will cost you,” Robinson said. 

The Liberals are committing to spend less than half of what the NDP is promising on health care, she said.

“Even in the midst of a pandemic, the B.C. Liberals don’t understand the value of investing in health care.”

Other new details in the Liberal platform include a promise to deliver 10,000 new child care spaces to complement an already announced $10- to $30-a-day child care promise. 

The Liberals would spend $8 billion over three years on new capital projects in areas like transportation, health and education. About $1 billion would be spent over five years on new long-term care facilities. 

“The B.C. Liberals are putting forward a plan that British Columbians can get excited about,” Wilkinson said.

The plan was released ahead of Tuesday night’s televised leaders debate and comes as the Liberals face criticism for comments a candidate made about the physical appearance of the NDP’s Bowinn Ma.

The comments made by Liberal candidate Jane Thornthwaite during an online roast on Sept. 17 to honour the retirement of Ralph Sultan have been widely condemned as sexist, since the video was posted online over the weekend. 

Ma has said Thornthwaite “sexualized” her interactions with Sultan. On Twitter, Thornthwaite acknowledged that her comments “were inappropriate” and she apologized to Ma.

Wilkinson was peppered with questions during the platform launch about why he laughed at the jokes instead of stopping them, replying that he was “embarrassed to the point of being appalled” but did not feel he needed to say anything to Thornthwaite.

“There’s no place for those kind of sexist remarks in our society period. I want to apologize to Bowinn Ma and commit that we will all work very hard to do better.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the Liberals would spend $8 million on capital projects.