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Parties avoiding subject of ailing economy

The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The economic downturn was supposed to be front and centre in the B.C. election campaign.

The B.C. economy is flagging, along with the rest of the continent and the world. Businesses are laying off workers, and unemployment figures are growing. The province will post a deficit for at least the next two years.

But even as job losses mount, the issue of the economy has faded into the background on the campaign trail, behind crime, the environment, a Stanley Cup run by the Vancouver Canucks and the swine flu.

Jason Morris, in the political science department at the University of Northern B.C., said he expected to see economic solutions on Page 1 of both the Liberal and New Democrat platforms, but that wasn't the case.

"They took pains not to even mention it," Mr. Morris said.

In fact, the Liberal Party said on the first page of its platform that the province isn't immune from the global recession, but "the key to a strong economy is confidence, leadership and vision."

The New Democrats' opening page criticizes the Gordon Campbell government for giving away the province to private interests, making life less affordable for families and slashing vital public services.

But neither party has claimed to have a way to shelter British Columbia from the economic storm.

"The parties can downplay their plans on the economy if they have the sense that they can't produce a magic solution overnight," Mr. Morris said.

Long-time political watcher Brad Zubyk said the economy isn't the only issue being ignored in this campaign.

"I think the problem is the election is extremely sleepy," he said. "The public has yet to tune in. I assume they will this week."

Voting takes place next Tuesday.

The Liberal Party, Mr. Zubyk said, had an advantage on the issue of the economy because it made government announcements leading up to the election and can focus on its economic record in the campaign.

But other than suggesting that Gordon Campbell is responsible for the economic downturn over the past six months, he said, the New Democrats have largely ignored the economic elephant in the room.

"They're afraid to talk about the economy," Mr. Zubyk said.

"The NDP's problem is if you never talk about it that's never going to change. But to talk about it you have to do important policy work - which I don't think has been done."

The New Democrats' platform promises to support job creation, business development and skills training in the province, along with expanding infrastructure and economic opportunity in all regions of B.C.

The James campaign also promises a one-year tax holiday for small business and to invest in wealth-creating programs, such as trade promotion, a buy-B.C. policy and investments in tourism, mining, agriculture and the arts.

Many economic promises from the Liberals came before the campaign, including reducing taxes and red tape for business and streamlining approvals for investment and job creation.

Yesterday, the Coalition of B.C. Businesses issued a statement cautioning voters about the cost of the NDP platform.

The group, which represents about 50,000 businesses in the province, said jobs are at risk because of higher payroll costs connected to the NDP promise of a minimum wage increase to $10 an hour and higher taxes.

The public may have a larger impression that the actions of provincial politicians have an impact on the economy, said David Hobden, an economist with Central 1 Credit Union, but that isn't really the case.

"Much of the determinants of economic conditions are made in the international markets and flow with a lot of macro economic issues over which local politicians have none or very little influence," Mr. Hobden said.

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