By Jane Sterk
To say we saw this coming would be an understatement.
In February, it was readily apparent that B.C. revenues—both income tax and resource—were going to take a dramatic hit. Anyone with basic knowledge of the economy and a small calculator could have foreseen a deficit closer to $2 billion, not the $500 million promised by the Liberals. B.C. Greens saw it. Most economists saw it. The B.C. Business Council saw it.
Interestingly enough, the NDP did not see it. That might have something to do with the fact that they built their election budget based on the Liberals’ numbers. Maybe it’s just me, but in an election year both parties seem to lose their ability to understand the economics of the province.
But the election is over, the Liberals are back in charge, the budget update has been presented, and the long awaited multibillion-dollar deficit has been revealed. In times like this, belts need to be tightened and planning has to be put in place to ensure that government does not impede the eventual recovery. And, it’s disappointing that the NDP continues to rely on slogans like “Axe the Tax” and “Stop the HST” but haven’t proposed their own economic plan, something we might expect from a government in waiting.
What would the B.C. Greens have done if we were in power?
Would we have introduced the harmonized sales tax? Yes, but only after consulting with the public and moving it through the legislature in a truly democratic fashion. We have been calling for the introduction of an HST for several years. Consumption taxes are efficient and open. There is no hiding the HST, unlike the PST. However, we would have reduced the combined rate to 10 percent. By leaving it at 12 percent, the Liberals have increased taxes on the average consumer, which will dampen consumption—hardly the approach you want in a recession.
We would have offset the HST reduction with an increase in the carbon tax, one that would actually affect consumer behaviour and make investing in renewable energy competitive. The net result would be the same or better tax revenue but incentive to decrease use of carbon-based fuels.
Would we have increased Medical Services Plan premiums? Maybe. But we would require an audit of the administrative component of the health-care system before asking the public for more money. It is impossible to believe that health-care costs continue to rise while care deteriorates. The health-care professionals in this province are well trained, motivated, but handicapped by a system that seems designed to fail. Is this the Liberals’ plan to eventually force privatization? It sure seems to be. We know a public system can work, and work well.
Would we have cut funding to LiveSmart and other programs and gaming grants to arts and sports organizations? Absolutely not. The savings found in these programs are minor at best, but the psychological lift and increase in sense of community are irreplaceable. For the Liberals to pick on small nonprofit community groups is unfair.
Greens would also champion campaign-finance reform to get special-interest money out of government decision-making. A publicly funded system like at the federal level allows for a fairer representation of peoples’ interests in politics. Why should unions fund the NDP? Why should resource and property developers fund the Liberals? Do these sectors represent the will of all British Columbians? We don’t think so.
We would not back away from our Green obligations. We would continue programs to encourage energy-efficient home retrofitting and green power production. We would not have cut the budget of the Ministry of the Environment.
B.C. Greens would have looked ahead and started preparing for the double-dip recession that we almost certainly face once the stimulus programs run out. We expect another recession to come in 2010-11 that will be just as fierce, with a budget deficit almost as big as the one in 2009.
Greens would look at our stimulus programs, redirect money away from projects like the Port Mann Bridge and toward infrastructure for the 21st century, and we would stretch the stimulus out over a longer period. We would begin a program to help the forestry sector build a value-added manufacturing sector rather than relying on raw log export, but this would mean fundamental changes to forestry practices from an industrial model to an ecological one. We would invest in leading-edge Green technologies that could be exported. Most of all, we would support the small businesses of this province that are the true job generating engine in recessionary times.
As we move toward 2013, Greens will be presenting the people of British Columbia with well-prepared action plans on how to run this province and how to return it to sustainable prosperity.
Jane Sterk is the leader of the Green Party of B.C.