By Bruce Ralston
The B.C. Liberals fail to offer any real plan in Tuesday’s budget to grow the economy and recover after the Winter Olympics.
As the global recession weakens, the British Columbia economy begins to show tentative signs of recovery.
But B.C.’s economic state is incredibly fragile and the province’s most vulnerable need support more than ever. Persistently high unemployment, growing consumer debt loads, and depressed market exports are a continuing concern.
Add in the growing gap between the rich and poor, sky-high housing prices, and B.C.’s cost of living, and the result is continued economic uncertainty.
Instead of developing a real plan to help rebuild our economy, the B.C. Liberals are simply raiding ICBC and B.C. Hydro (after raising hydro rates) and implementing what amounts to another tax on consumers.
Meanwhile, the B.C. Liberals introduce a budget that betrays their election promise to protect health and education and hammers British Columbians with the HST. The B.C. Liberal justifications for the HST betrayal get more frantic by the day. They deserve a gold medal in “freestyle distortion” for trying to claim the HST is meant to fund health care.
This budget is the wrong approach for an economy on the verge of recovery.
We should to be investing in people to secure our recovery and help create jobs. Smart investments in the future of our province—in our children and grandchildren—will help propel our economy into the future.
We cannot afford to make short-sighted cuts that sacrifice our long-term future. But that’s precisely what the B.C. Liberals are doing.
They’re cutting public services British Columbians rely upon, and threatening the tentative economic recovery we’ve seen to date.
Let’s not forget that we were put on this path by the B.C. Liberal government’s budget deception.
Instead of being upfront about the province’s finances in the election campaign, instead of coming clean with British Columbians and proposing strategies to minimize the impact of these down times, the B.C. Liberals fail to invest in our economic recovery.
And the scrambling continues, with B.C. facing a $1.7-billion deficit for the coming year.
It’s just another example of this government’s failure to provide a long-term economic vision for B.C.
Consider the current state of our public education system.
In a thriving and modern economy, an educated and talented workforce is the key to global competitiveness. As experts like former clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch say, we need to emphasize education and innovation.
Sadly, the B.C. Liberals refuse to acknowledge the realities of overcrowding and continued cost pressures in our schools.
Boards of education struggle to pay for the fundamentals, and parents wonder how their kids will spend another year without the support they need.
It’s critical we invest in our children in the early stages of life, but that investment must be carried through.
If we want to build the economy, we need sustained, stable funding for B.C. schools.
The province should invest in innovation, research, and development, but the B.C. Liberals continue to cut post-secondary education.
A strong and vibrant public education system will give the province its competitive edge, and allow us to seize the opportunities of a new, green economy.
While the B.C. Liberals like to present themselves as green, this budget shows they have little credibility on the environment.
The B.C. Liberals are barely keeping the LiveSmart program alive after sharply reducing it last year, and they have made deep cuts to the Ministry of Environment in their last three budgets.
Making matters worse, the harmonized sales tax will make energy-saving devices for the home and bicycles more expensive, taking us backward when we should be creating more initiatives for British Columbians to make environmental choices.
Consumer confidence is a major part of economic recovery, and the B.C. Liberals’ HST will have just the opposite effect.
If legislation passes and the HST is implemented, it could cost 10,000 jobs from the tourism industry alone, and many small businesses may not see the end of the year.
The current economic situation is a tremendous challenge. But it’s also an unparalleled opportunity to make targeted, smart investments to bring B.C.’s economy into the 21st century.
But we must make the right investments.
We can’t pay for the services we need without wealth creation and economic growth. And we can’t have long-term growth if we don’t promote social inclusion, through strong social programs, and a world-class education system.
Bruce Ralston is the B.C. New Democratic Party’s finance critic and the MLA for Surrey-Whalley.