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Good morning. Wendy Cox in Vancouver this morning.

Handing out goodies in the form of tax cuts and new spending programs during an election is hardly new. Being able to do so amid a pandemic when the usual guardrail of fiscal caution is out the window has made for a dizzying array of promises. Both parties are pledging to spend heartily on childcare and on hospital infrastructure, among other things. The NDP has promised free prescription contraception if elected. The Liberals have promised to expand a program that pairs mental-health workers with police officers if elected.

But the biggest difference between the two parties is in their plans for stimulating the economy to help the province recover from the pandemic. The BC Liberals, who have spent much of the last two decades building a reputation for prudent fiscal management, introduced their platform Tuesday that included $9.2-billion in commitments in the first year alone, the biggest one being a pledge to eliminate the provincial sales tax for the year.

In contrast, the NDP election platform includes $2.4-billion in new operating spending, including a one-time $1,000 COVID-19 recovery benefit for families and $500 for individuals. The NDP plan would drive this year’s deficit to more than $15-billion.

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said the recession generated by the COVID-19 pandemic demands big spending and major tax cuts. “We’ll grow our way out of this recession,” he said, adding that a Liberal government would begin next year to map out a plan to return to balanced budgets, but that shift would not be achieved in a single term in office.

The platform was revealed Tuesday morning, hours before the NDP, Green and Liberal leaders squared off in their first face-to-face debate, but if the Liberals had hoped to own the agenda with the release of their platform, Mr. Wilkinson would have been disappointed. Tuesday was the first time he addressed a growing controversy around sexualized remarks made by one of his MLAs during a digital sendoff to MLA Ralph Sultan, who is not running again.

During the event, long-time MLA Jane Thornthwaite referred to NDP MLA Bowinn Ma as a “pretty lady” who displayed her cleavage for political advantage. The Liberal Leader, who attended the digital event, said on Tuesday that he was embarrassed and appalled when the remarks were made.

Mr. Wilkinson offered a belated apology to Ms. Ma, but said he didn’t think he needed to challenge Ms. Thornthwaite at the time. “Her performance and choice of words was so inappropriate that it was abundantly clear by the end of the roast that she made a bit of a fool of herself.”

The first leaders' debate of the campaign saw Mr. Horgan attacked for his decision to call an election amid a pandemic, despite provincial legislation that doesn’t require a vote for another year and an agreement the party had struck to govern with the Greens. Mr. Horgan said again an election was necessary to “move forward” to put politics behind the province, but Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau questioned why anyone should trust him.

The most memorable moment of the debate came when the three leaders were asked to reflect on race and their own privilege as white leaders. Mr. Horgan and Mr. Wilkinson explained their experiences amid Indigenous people and people of colour. Mr. Horgan later retracted his debate declaration that he grew up colour blind, saying after the debate that he did not intend to diminish the challenges people of colour face.

Ms. Furstenau by contrast, spoke with empathy about parents who must worry that their children could be killed in an interaction with police.
“We’re not all equal. I wish we were. The three of us can’t fully reckon with that, because we’re white,” she said.

Debates can make or break underdog candidates and the NDP have a commanding lead ahead of both the Liberals and the Greens. But among the many things the pandemic has changed, it has upended strategic calculations on what could impact voters and when. Elections BC tweeted Tuesday that the agency has received 680,000 requests for mail-in ballots, a more than 100-fold increase in the number of people who voted by mail in the 2017 election and already easily outstripping the agency’s estimation that about 665,000 voters would want to choose this option. There are still three days left for people to ask for a mail-in ballot so the numbers will grow from there. That means that voters must make their decisions well ahead of the Oct. 24 election day to ensure their ballots arrive on time.

Reporter Ian Bailey had a look at the unprecedented demand for mail-in votes. Elections BC had estimated that one in three voters would cast their ballots this way, a massive increase even compared to other jurisdictions that are holding elections during the pandemic. In Saskatchewan, officials there estimate about 6 per cent of voters will mail in their ballots. In New Brunswick last month, only 4 per cent did.

Support for the option stands in stark contrast to the United States, where voters have been buffeted by claims from President Donald Trump that mail-in ballots can’t be trusted and accusations that politicians have interfered with the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to handle mail-in ballots. But B.C.'s chief electoral officer said British Columbians are comfortable with the security of mail-in voting, having already participated in two referenda and one Vancouver-area plebiscite this way in recent years.

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.


PHILLIP TALLIO: Phillip Tallio pleaded guilty as a teen to killing his 22-month-old cousin, but says he did not know he had admitted guilt or grasped his second-degree murder trial was over until prison guards told him some time after sentencing. Mr. Tallio, now 54, took the stand Tuesday at B.C.'s Court of Appeal to defend his words and actions over the 37 years he spent behind bars for the horrific crime he maintains he did not commit. He was granted the historic appeal three years ago after new DNA evidence came to light as well as questions about a flawed RCMP investigation, witnesses coming forward about other other suspects that were ignored by police, concerns over his two alleged confessions and reports of systemic racism. He told the three-judge panel that the result made him angry and that he blamed his lawyer for entering the plea agreement without his consent. The majority of the first day of the appeal was taken up by a Crown prosecutor cross-examining Mr. Tallio and challenging him on his reported cognitive limitations – one of the reasons his defence has said he was originally convicted.

OPIOIDS: The Alberta government has delayed plans to release timely data on overdose fatalities, information experts argue is crucial to stemming deaths tied to illicit drugs. Like other provinces, fatal overdoses in Alberta have reached record levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, but health officials delay the release of data on those deaths by months. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, says a new tool is coming to provide up-to-date data, but she does not know when.

HANDGUNS: The federal government is pressing ahead with plans to allow municipalities to ban handguns – a proposal that prompted Saskatchewan to pass legislation to prevent cities from adopting such bans. The proposal has angered some provincial governments and advocates on both sides of the gun debate, who question the value of having a patchwork of gun laws while suggesting it could even be unconstitutional. At the same time, few cities appear eager to wade into the gun-control debate by actually pursuing a local ban, instead arguing the federal government should make a national policy.

A REFUGEE FAMILY’S FARM: A family of Syrian refugees who moved to Calgary has started a farm to give back to the city’s foodbank, which it relied on after arriving, while also generating a thriving business. Globe reporter Carrie Tait and photographer Leah Hennel visited Nahima Mohamed and her husband, Mohamed Eldaher, to see their farm and hear about how they started a new life in Canada.

SASKATCHEWAN ELECTION: As coronavirus cases rise in Saskatchewan, the leaders of the NDP and the Saskatchewan Party are trading barbs over how they are handling the pandemic. Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili is criticizing his opponents in the Oct. 26 election of speaking of COVID-19 in the past tense. Meili says in a news release Monday that the first page of the Saskatchewan Party’s election platform says, “We faced the pandemic – together.” Meili says COVID-19 is not over – not in Canada, and not in Saskatchewan. In a statement Monday, Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe urged increased vigilance in light of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the province. The pandemic is expected to be one of the topics of Wednesday night’s leaders' debate.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, told a news conference that gatherings in private residences are to be restricted to a maximum of 15 people, down from 30. More than 160 new infections were reported in the province over the long weekend, with many linked to gatherings, Dr. Shahab said.

MANITOBA COVID: Manitoba’s top doctor issued a warning Tuesday as the province’s COVID-19 numbers continued to rise: people have to mingle less with non-household members and stop interacting with others while sick. Health officials announced 124 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, although all but 26 were delayed reporting from the long weekend. Numbers have spiked in recent weeks, mostly in Winnipeg. More than one-third of all cases to date involve people aged 20 to 39, provincial data indicate. Dr. Brent Roussin has also repeatedly said in recent weeks that many cases have been linked to people gathering in bars, restaurants and homes. The case numbers are taxing the province’s contact-tracing capacity, especially because many people who have tested positive lately have been in close, prolonged contact with many other people, Roussin said. The most recent provincial figures show that some people who tested positive had more than 40 contacts each that had to be investigated.

KEEPING CITY STREETS ALIVE: Many businesses on Canadian main streets barely limped through the summer and now, with COVID-19 restrictions tightening again, cities are speeding up efforts to help them over the higher hurdle of winter. In Lethbridge, Alta., the city is considering building an outdoor ice rink in its downtown park, which it has never done before. Calgary is planning a first-ever Chinook Blast festival, in conjunction with local arts and sports groups. Those efforts are going to be especially important for so-called “destination streets,” whose businesses rely on visitors – from office workers there for the day to local and international tourists. Those streets have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, according to a new study by the Canadian Urban Institute. Keeping main streets alive for another year of pandemic is going to take more than just patios and new outdoor activities, the study emphasizes.


The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on the plastics ban: “Plastics are an essential part of modern life. They have uses from food protection to medicine to automaking. We need plastics, but we also need the responsible manufacture and disposal of plastics, so that their price represents their true cost. In the long run, that will benefit the economy, the environment and the petrochemical and plastics industries, as the Alberta government justifiably hopes.”

Jessica Scott-Reid on Canada’s horsemeat trade: “Canadians are generally aware of the expansive and remote Albertan feedlots where cows are housed before becoming the beef that is the pride of the province. But Alberta is also home to a different kind of livestock trade, worth tens of millions of dollars, and one of the few still in existence in the world today: the horsemeat industry. It is fuelled in large part by breeders and dealers in Alberta, and works largely in the dark to ship horsemeat to Quebec, Asia and Europe.”