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James draws 2009 battle lines: Gas tax, homelessness, health care

Carole James drew what could become the battle lines for the 2009 provincial election during an address at the UBCM convention this morning in Pentiction.

The NDP leader attacked Gordon Campbell and his B.C. Liberal government for its policies on homelessness, transit, seniors, health care, and the carbon tax.

"We need a government that is in touch with British Columbians," James said.

Chief among her promises was a guarantee to "axe" B.C.'s carbon tax.

"The gas tax isn't fair. And it doesn't work. You pay, big polluters get a pass, and emissions keep rising," James said.

For the first time in a major address, James addressed the widespread discontent among green-minded voters who support the NDP's social policies but have been dismayed at James' attacks on the carbon tax.

"Frankly, it would have been very easy for me to go along with the government's plan. The Premier thought he had painted me into a corner. The experts agreed," James acknowledged.

James also criticized Campbell's new municipal exemption, announced yesterday.

"He's feeling the heat. He admitted he wasn't straight with British Columbians about the impact of the tax," James said. "You can't patch a bad tax!"

James promised to build more facilities to tackle mental health and drug addiction issues while expanding the number of affordable housing units across the province.

"If we don't start moving people into housing, British Columbia will be as well known for our staggering poverty as we are for our staggering beauty," she said.

James also highlighted a lack of long term care beds as a serious issue. She promised to establish an independent seniors' advocate so that the elderly stop "being treated like second-class citizens."

The opposition leader guaranteed more funding for transit while pledging to fix the province's health care system.

James rounded off her address with an appeal to the province's working and middle class residents.

"Wages for the middle class are stagnant and costs are rising for everything from ferry fares to ICBC premiums to Hydro rates," she said, promising to raise the minimum wage if elected. "That's not fair to hard-working British Columbians."

Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for The Hook.

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