NDP finance critic Carole James responds to the 2016 provincial budget. As NDP leader in 2013

NDP finance critic Carole James responds to the 2016 provincial budget. As NDP leader in 2013

BC VIEWS: Borrow and spend best for B.C.?

Justin Trudeau wants to make deficits cool, and Thomas Mulcair was punished for wanting to balance the budget. Next up, John Horgan

With 11 months to redefine itself for voters, Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberal government has dialed back its boasting about four consecutive balanced budgets, and has begun creating the impression of a minor spending spree.

It picked up with a series of education funding announcements. First Education Minister Mike Bernier unveiled an increase to the province’s “fix-it fund,” as he calls it.

This is not to be confused with the annual “facilities grant” provided to school districts each year, or the carbon tax collected from schools and hospitals that is then doled out for approved energy upgrades.

The “fix-it fund” was $20 million last year, but this past March, Bernier announced it was increased to $40 million, and called for districts to propose roof, electrical, heating and other projects that could be done by March 2017.

After going through the submissions, Bernier announced in mid-May that the fund is up to $45 million. The increase is not new money, he assured reporters. That means it’s taken from the next two years of the three-year education budget.

Hence my reference to “creating the impression” of a spending spree. Or perhaps Cowichan Valley NDP MLA Bill Routley’s favourite expression captures it best: “jiggery-pokery.”

Then Bernier found another $25 million for struggling school district operations, by returning “administrative savings” his ministry had required from districts for the second year running. With some school districts charging for bus service or cutting it out entirely, the “administrative savings” argument wasn’t doing so well.

The B.C. NDP ran its last election campaign on the assertion that the 2013 budget wasn’t going to be balanced, despite a run of land sales to stop the flow of red ink left from buying the province out of the harmonized sales tax.

But B.C. Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong did balance the books, with the help of a temporary tax increase on incomes of $150,000 and up.

Then came last year’s federal election, and balanced budgets got a bad name. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals insisted the Stephen Harper Conservatives were running a hidden deficit and starving us into recession. Trudeau promised “modest” deficits of no more than $10 billion a year to stimulate the economy.

Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair promised to balance the budget while still providing national daycare and other big-ticket services. He lost, and his party turned away from him and from “austerity,” as borrow-and-spend enthusiasts like to call paying for public services as you go.

NDP leader John Horgan took note of the apparent shift in public mood to tolerate borrowing. The NDP under Adrian Dix promised deficit spending four years ago, but wrapped it in a claim it would only spend the B.C. Liberals’ alleged hidden deficit. That didn’t work very well.

In 2017, will Horgan follow Mulcair’s path or Trudeau’s? He is careful not to commit himself now on specific positions, but in a recent interview with The Vancouver Sun, Horgan did question the need to account for the costs of every promise.

“Justin Trudeau didn’t cost a damn thing,” he said. “And Donald Trump’s not costed a damn thing, nor did Bernie Sanders, and I don’t imagine Hillary Clinton will either.”

Actually, Trudeau did cost his platform for voters. Then, after winning a majority, he threw those estimates out and tripled the forecast deficits.

Canada spent itself into a huge hole in the 1970s, and it took until the 1990s to get out of it. We’ll soon find out if that lesson is lost on a new generation of voters.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

The Binche Fishing Derby at Stuart Lake is fast approaching. (Binche Fishing Derby Facebook photo)
Binche shares excitement for upcoming fishing derby

“It’s more than just fishing,” says Dave Birdi

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
Local youth vaccination clinics underway

Pfizer vaccine will be used

Priya Sharma. (Submitted)
Column: Why ultimatums don’t work

By Priya Sharma It is a common misconception that people can choose… Continue reading

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

(Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Trutch Avenue in Chilliwack to be renamed to remove racist taint

New name to have Indigenous significance as Chilliwack takes new step toward reconciliation

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is seen during a joint news conference following the EU-Canada Summit, in Brussels, Belgium, Tuesday June 15, 2021. Trudeau says Canada is on track now to have 68 million doses delivered by the end of July, which is more than enough to fully vaccinate all 33.2 million Canadians over the age of 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine deliveries enough to fully vaccinate all eligible Canadians by end of July

Three in four eligible Canadians now have their first dose, nearly one in five fully vaccinated.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant grew in Canada this week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s public health agency reports spike in confirmed cases of Delta variant

More than 2,000 cases of the variant confirmed across all 10 provinces and in one territory

Bella Bella is on B.C.’s Central Coast, accessible only by air and ocean. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
B.C. provides $22 million for Heiltsuk development on Central Coast

Elders care home project, tourism, lumber mill supported

Most Read