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B.C. Liberals vow to end bridge tolls, despite earlier 'guarantee' of credit downgrade

'The decision to forgo all toll revenues in the way the NDP announced…will guarantee a credit downgrade,' Finance Minister insisted Apr. 10.

Premier Christy Clark looks on as B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong waits to deliver a balanced budget for a fifth year in a row at Legislative Assembly in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Premier Christy Clark looks on as B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong waits to deliver a balanced budget for a fifth year in a row at Legislative Assembly in Victoria, B.C. Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

How much has changed in just two months of British Columbia's greatest political turmoil in decades?

In the B.C. Liberals' Throne Speech on Thursday afternoon, the party adopted yet another key plank from their New Democratic Party rivals' election platform: to scrap bridge tolls entirely on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges.

In fact, it was the very first B.C. NDP plank, the promise with which it launched its entire election campaign.

Now, as they did in promising free child care to the majority of B.C. families, ending corporate and union donations, and raising decade-stagnant welfare rates, Premier Christy Clark's right-leaning party ripped another page from their left-leaning opponents' own populist playbook.

"Your government will move to eliminate tolls on the Port Mann Bridge as quickly as possible," the speech read. "Your government will also work with TransLink … to remove tolls on the Golden Ears Bridge.

"…These changes are affordable with the province’s strong fiscal position, without compromising our commitment to balanced budgets."

But the B.C. Liberals haven't always seen toll-scrapping as a wise move, and during the election made some dire predictions.

In an "on-background" fiscal briefing by long-time Finance Minister Mike de Jong on April 10 — which he agreed to speak on the record at Metro's request — de Jong insisted that scrapping bridge tolls would spell disaster for the economy.

"The decision to forgo all toll revenues in the way the NDP have announced, in my view, will guarantee a credit downgrade for B.C.," de Jong said then. "… This decision in and of itself is sufficient to lead to a credit downgrade."

Now, the government said it believes the province's finances are in better shape thanks to an "unexpected" surplus, and suddenly such extravagant and costly promises are within reach.

But don't hold your breath for free travel across the bridges any time soon. The Throne Speech preceeds what Clark has said will be four days of debate, before it goes to a confidence vote she admits she's likely to lose.

Correction (June 26): An earlier version of this story said there are 10 days of debate before a non-confidence vote. In fact, Legislature rules stipulate four days from the introduction of a non-confidence motion, meaning if tabled June 26, a vote could take place June 29, seven days after the Throne Speech. It could, however, be delayed by government-introduced legislation.

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