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Chasing the West Coast vote: Here’s what the major parties have for…

VANCOUVER—In a federal election race where polling shows Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in a dead heat with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, in both popular vote and seat count, British Columbia has emerged as a big-time battleground.

It was perhaps no surprise, then, that Scheer chose a Lower Mainland riding as the scene of his platform unveiling Friday, according to one analyst.

In front of an ocean view in Tsawwassen, about an hour south of Vancouver, Scheer described the money a hypothetical couple from the community would save under a Conservative government.

“It’s clear that the Lower Mainland is one of the major battlegrounds for the country,” said Stewart Prest, an author and lecturer at Simon Fraser University in Canadian politics.

But Scheer isn’t the only leader targeting the West Coast.

With platforms or commitment lists released by all four major parties, here’s how the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Greens are courting B.C. voters in the 2019 federal election campaign’s final stretch.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, accompanied by Katrina Chen, MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, plays on a slide as he makes a child-care announcement at a campaign stop in Vancouver on Sept. 30.

Housing

A top issue for British Columbians, affordable housing is a feature of all four major party platforms. Polling firm Research Co. found in a September survey that “housing, homelessness, and poverty” were the ballot box issues for 17 per cent of Canadians this election. They were the decisive issues for 24 per cent of British Columbians.

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Prest called the focus on housing a departure from previous elections, when federal parties may have viewed it as a municipal issue. But the need to court votes in battleground areas such as the Lower Mainland has “pushed certain issues to the forefront” and one of those is housing affordability.

“It forces the federal parties to make pronouncements on municipal policy,” he said.

The Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, and Greens have all presented narratives of helping the middle class afford homes. The question that distinguishes them, Prest said, is who is included in the “middle class,” with some parties focused on homeowners (who often have more resources), and others focused on renters.

The Liberal housing platform focuses on first-time homebuyers. It builds on an existing incentive aimed at helping people save up to buy a home for the first time by offering 10 per cent off the purchase price, up to a value of $800,000 in expensive cities like Victoria and Vancouver.

The Conservatives also prioritized homeowners in their platform — promising to bring back 30-year amortization periods in an effort to reduce monthly mortgage payments, and review federal real estate holdings with an eye to considering housing developments.

The NDP would also bring in 30-year mortgages, but its focus is on rental housing, not owners and prospective owners. The NDP pledges to get 500,000 affordable housing units built across the country as a central tenet of its plan, and would also develop resources for people to explore co-housing options.

The Greens say they will make housing a protected human right through legislation, increase rental assistance, and pour $750 million into the National Housing Co-Investment fund, which provides loans and capital for affordable housing projects.

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greets supporters at a campaign rally in Surrey, B.C., on Sept. 24.

Pipelines

The environment is a central part of all four party platforms — with each party taking a dramatically different approach to what it means to protect the environment while developing Canada’s energy sector.

It’s a complex issue in B.C., where protecting the environment is top of mind for many (19 per cent, according to the Research Co. poll), but British Columbians have various opinions about whether it is possible to protect the environment while also allowing energy projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

A slim majority of British Columbians support the Trans Mountain expansion, according to a summer poll, while 28 per cent of people in the province called themselves “strongly” opposed.

The Conservative platform proposes getting construction of the Trans Mountain expansion underway, developing a national energy corridor to get more Alberta and Saskatchewan oil to foreign markets, and allowing oil tankers in B.C.’s northern coast — proposing to lift a long-standing moratorium that was legislated by the Liberal government last summer.

On the flip side, the Greens vow to cancel the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and invest in renewable energy instead.

The Liberals and NDP both sit somewhere in between. The Liberals, who under Trudeau bought the Trans Mountain pipeline, remain committed to getting it built and say they have now completed the requisite consultation with Indigenous groups to get it done.

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The NDP doesn’t make specific commitments pertaining to Trans Mountain, but says the party will eliminate tax breaks for fossil fuel producers and also invest in renewables.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May leaves a campaign announcement in Victoria on Oct. 3.

Affordability

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How to make life less expensive in a world where housing, school, food, and child care are getting more expensive, but salaries aren’t necessarily keeping up?

That scenario describes Vancouver, which has the biggest gap between home prices and incomes in North America.

All the parties offer some kind off relief aimed at making life more affordable.

Conservatives promise relief in the form of tax breaks. In particular, they say they will take 1.25 per cent off income tax on the first $47,630 of earnings over the course of four years — equivalent to about $600 in savings once the cut was in place. They’re also pledging a cocktail of tax credit bumps: for seniors, arts and sports programs, and public transportation, for example.

Liberals are promising no tax on the first $15,000 of income earned, an increase to the Canada Child Benefit, and expanded benefits from the federal government for people who lose their jobs.

The NDP promises to make life more affordable through universal programs, especially universal pharmacare, and the promise of 500,000 affordable housing units.

Opioid crisis

Pressure from the mayor of Vancouver last month for federal leaders to commit to action on the opioid crisis reinforced the appearance that the issue was a local one permeating the federal election arena.

Prest said that federal leaders taking sides on what to do about the opioid crisis may be about presenting an example of their party’s philosophical approach to governing.

“It gives an opportunity to make these local appeals, but also structured in that kind of party-specific way,” Prest said. “It’s a way to telegraph: What does it mean to vote Liberal? What does it mean to vote Conservative?”

But what do the platforms say?

The only specific mention of opioids in the Conservative platform is in respect to the justice system, where the party commits to full-body scans of people entering Canadian prisons to prevent smuggling of the drugs. The Conservatives otherwise vow to invest in treatment and recovery centres for addictions and educate Canadians about the harms of drugs.

The Liberals also say they will invest in treatment centres for addictions, and add that they will make drug treatment court the “default option for first-time, non-violent offenders charged exclusively with simple possession.”

The NDP go further and promise to “end the criminalization and stigma” of drug addiction, while supporting overdose prevention sites. The Greens state explicitly that they believe drug possession should be decriminalized and that drug users should get access to a “screened” supply of drugs in an effort to prevent deaths by drug contamination.

Infrastructure

Infrastructure plays a national role in every party’s platform, but some parties have made a case to draw attention to Vancouver-area infrastructure projects they believe should get priority.

The Conservatives said Friday that the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel, an aging thruway connecting Delta and Richmond, would be prioritized under a Conservative plan as part of an effort to front-burner infrastructure projects that cut down commute times.

The Liberal plan promises to force provinces and municipalities to put the money they get from the federal government to use by 2021, and commits to creating a national infrastructure strategy, an ask of business groups across Canada’s major cities, including Vancouver.

The NDP has made multiple commitments to modernize and improve infrastructure — especially with respect to transit and housing. The NDP also promises to invest in health, housing, and transportation infrastructure in First Nations communities.

The Greens promise to give municipalities more control over infrastructure funds, including by lowering interest rates for loans from the Canada Infrastructure Bank and creating a dedicated public transit fund of $3.4 billion per year in 2028.

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