By Bruce Ralston
The B.C. Liberals capped off their summer of deception with a budget that breaks the fundamental commitments they made to British Columbians while piling extra costs onto British Columbians.
This week, the premier, Gordon Campbell, and his finance minister, Colin Hansen, came under fire and further damaged their credibility after British Columbians learned that they knew about the province’s ballooning deficit during the election period but hid the news from voters.
Despite clear warnings from leading economists that their pre-election numbers didn’t hold water, the government refused to admit that they were going to break the premier’s promises until after the election. And they attempted to label anyone who questioned the believability of their promises a fear monger.
When no one believed the government’s initial budget projections in February, the B.C. Liberals stood by a fictitious projection of $495 million and held this position throughout the election campaign. It would seem that, in telling the truth, they would have jeopardized their election brand—to sell British Columbians on their ability to manage the economy.
After the election, the premier and Minister Hansen continued on their duplicitous path, swearing they had no idea that B.C.’s deficit would be off. That was until a radio interview this week, when Hansen let it slip that during the election, his deputy finance minister casually mentioned that the deficit might run $200 million to $300 million more than originally forecast.
In a separate but strikingly similar admission, the premier said he had a similar conversation during the campaign with his deputy minister.
With their budget lies, the B.C. Liberals have undermined a lot more than their own legitimacy. They have undermined the public’s faith in the institutions that govern us all.
Carole James and the New Democrats have put forward positive steps to help return openness to government budgeting, modelled on the prime minister’s accountability package, and have called for an independent budget officer.
But the finance minister dismissed the model of a budget officer out of hand. Despite the fact that it’s a model supported by leading economists across the country, the B.C. Liberals refuse to consider any concrete measure to restore accountability to revenue forecasts. It proves the government’s complete lack of commitment to accountability and openness in budgeting.
Despite the fact that this is the second time this year the finance minister has had the chance to put forward a plan for British Columbians, he has yet to offer any real plan. The introduction of a new regressive tax onto the backs of consumers and hikes to Medical Services Plan premiums combined with deep cuts to public services shows how far this government has drifted from economic and fiscal reality.
The legacy of eight years of B.C. Liberal economic and fiscal mismanagement is a province deeply divided between rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old; a province where the potential benefits of economic growth were squandered, leaving British Columbians ill-prepared to cope with the inevitable downturn that has come.
The B.C. Liberal budget does nothing to change direction. Tied to failed economic and fiscal orthodoxies, the government is proving to be incapable of new thinking.
The choice made in this budget—the 10th of this administration—offers yesterday’s solutions to today’s challenges. It sacrifices consumers, small business, and investments in economic growth to cover up for its fiscal lies. It is a budget as flawed as the government who delivered it.
In the wake of B.C. Liberal mismanagement and misinformation, the key will be to help British Columbians navigate within a damaged economy that struggles to emerge from the recession, and prevent the next generation from being saddled with a massive deficit.
Bruce Ralston is the B.C. New Democratic Party’s finance critic and the MLA for Surrey-Whalley.