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Dix must step up with details

So far, this province's other two would-be premiers are keeping quiet about what, exactly, they would do that is so different from the ruling B.C. Liberals when it comes to government spending and taxation.

So far, this province's other two would-be premiers are keeping quiet about what, exactly, they would do that is so different from the ruling B.C. Liberals when it comes to government spending and taxation.

But how long the NDP's Adrian Dix and the B.C. Conservative's John Cummins can remain silent on this key point is unclear. Certainly, as the next election approaches, the pressure will increase for their parties to release a detailed, fully costed platform to put in front of the voters.

Dix has pledged to do just that, but we don't know yet whether the NDP platform will be made public on the eve of the May 2013 election or whether it will be revealed well ahead of that.

As for the B.C. Conservatives, they remain a work-in-progress, a party content on blasting the B.C. Liberals on all fronts but unwilling (or unable) to provide any explanation of what they would do in government.

This continued vagueness will allow the B.C. Liberals to hammer both parties with all kinds of accusations. This past week saw the odd spectacle of two Liberal MLAs -Mary Polak and Ralph Sultan -hold a news conference to lay out what they saw as Dix's spending promises. Of course, much of what they said was of the sky-is-falling variety and wasn't terribly accurate. They simply took all kinds of NDP criticisms of B.C. Liberal policies, attached a dollar figure to them, and then suggested everything Dix has planned on the spending front is going to occur all at once, in the first year of power.

Dix is on record for boosting health-care spending, but so are the B.C. Liberals. He's promised more money to help university students, wants to hire more judges and has pledged to raise corporate taxes to the levels that were there in 2008.

In other words, rather than the billions and billions of dollars the B.C. Liberals insist Dix is about to push off the back of the taxpayers' truck, the reality is we're talking about a lot less money here.

Nevertheless, there was a telling moment last week when press gallery reporters looking for a few more details about NDP plans were rebuffed by a rather defensive Dix. It was an encounter that will repeat itself again and again as we draw closer to an election.

Similarly, the party's education critic, Robin Austin, also refused to talk about what an NDP government would do

when it came to dealing with the B.C. Teachers' Federation. He can get away with that for now, but eventually the NDP will have to make clear where it stands with the militant teachers' union.

As an aside, it will be interesting to see to how the NDP deals with the legislation to impose a contract on the teachers. The previous NDP government also brought in legislation to end labour disputes, so it's not like they haven't been down this road themselves.

A measure of the NDP's allegiance to the BCTF will be seen by how long it holds the contract law up for debate and whether it uses parliamentary tactics to delays its passage.

As for Cummins, he's basically been given a free ride for the most part by the media and other political parties. That's somewhat understandable, given the sorry state of the government -watching to see if a government falls apart is more interesting than watching a fledgling political party get its act together.

Still, Cummins has decried the fact the B.C. Liberals are increasing spending and piling up debt. Fair enough, but he hasn't explained how he would actually cut spending without hurting health care, education, the justice system and social programs (which consume more than 80 per cent of the government budget).

And he hasn't explained which of the many capital projects being built -the very thing that increases the province's debt more than anything else -he would cancel. Kill the Evergreen Line perhaps? Stop building schools and hospital additions maybe? Stop the safety upgrades to B.C. Hydro's network of dams?

Like the NDP, the B.C. Conservatives at some point must present a coherent alternative to the ruling B.C. Liberals. Cummins and his people clearly want to destroy the B.C. Liberal Party and make the Conservative party the sole vehicle for the so-called free enterprise coalition.

But achieving that goal requires more than vague and often contradictory news releases and sound bites.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.