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And they're off

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It's impossible not to know that a provincial election is now only months away — it's tentatively scheduled for May 9.

At Pique, the dead giveaway is the endless press releases from Christy Clark's Liberal government announcing millions of dollars in spending on various ventures.

In the last week, 15 have arrived in my inbox.

Here are just a few:

• $140 million to improve access, target key mental-health initiatives;

• Follow up on Integrated Case Management (ICM) system with a progress audit on changes government has made since its 2015 report;

• #WeGetBizDone — B.C. celebrates Chamber Week. Since 2001, the B.C. government has reduced regulatory requirements for businesses by 47 per cent;

• As part of Balanced Budget 2017, the Ministry of Agriculture is set to receive a $2-million budget lift to invest in the Buy Local program;

• A $29.4-million back-to-school boost for B.C. classrooms in a Student Learning Grant;

• Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations announced a $150-million reforestation investment to help fight climate change and create more rural jobs.

There have also been a considerable number from the Green Party announcing candidates for the upcoming election and responses to Liberal announcements.

Pretty quiet on the NDP front at this point — though their website is populated with releases in reaction to Clark's proclamations.

Silence on the provincial Conservative Party website.

You may recall that in the last provincial election in 2013, the Liberal candidate for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, Jordan Sturdy, was the only declared candidate until just a few months before the May election.

But in the end, five candidates ran — including a Conservative and an independent.

Sturdy took a commanding win with 11,275 votes — 52.5 per cent of the popular vote — with the NDP running next, then the Green Party of British Columbia.

It's surprising that we have not had a Green candidate declared in our riding. Not only do we have the LNG plant in Squamish on the horizon, we have climate change front and centre and myriad other issues on the table, which are touched on by the provincial Green Party in its platform policy document.

With the release this week of the provincial budget, the gauntlet has been thrown down — cuts to MSP premiums (though the Liberals are responsible for raising them 40 per cent), to small business tax rates (great for many of the 19,000 tourist-related businesses in B.C.), cuts to interest rates on student loans and more money for education.

Just in time for an election, the Liberals are signalling they are ready to share what is expected to be a $2.2-billion surplus (the fifth one in a row).

But where are the announcements that would have brought real help to families? There is no cut to income tax, no cuts to ICBC premiums, no cuts to post-secondary education fees and no cuts to BC Hydro rates — something that would have been really welcome in Whistler.

The two-tiered system run by BC Hydro has a brutal effect on bills for those living in a cold climate in B.C. For many, this has meant that the cost to heat their homes has doubled. And BC Hydro's rates are slated to rise by another 3.5 per cent on Apr. 1, 2017, keeping in line with the corporation's 10-year pricing plan. 

Why are we being penalized because of the climate? It adds insult to injury considering it's the winter climate in Whistler that helps drive our big tourism numbers. The resort generates $500 million every year ($1.37 million every day) in tax revenue for federal, provincial and municipal coffers, and the resort is responsible for about 25 per cent of the entire annual tourism export revenue of B.C., up from 21.5 per cent in 2012.

Speaking of tourism, we are still to hear about what the province is doing around the future of the Resort Municipality Initiative funding. We know it will draw to a close or be reinvented this year.

All indications are that it will continue to exist in some form considering the return on the investments cannot be ignored by any sitting government — but so far mum's the word from the Liberals.

Still, there has been a shift in the voter landscape as we head into this election. Last time around, it really was about the economy and employment whereas this time the focus appears more to be about affordability, housing and just plain surviving.

Voters are concerned about their personal financial situations and listening to Clark rave about how strong B.C.'s economy is when many people are feeling a financial pinch may not be a winning strategy for the Liberals.

It will be interesting to meet our candidates for the coming election as they declare, and learn more about how their plans could help the Sea to Sky region.

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