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

Ladysmith proving once again, it’s a small town with a big heart

It takes a town full of volunteers to ensure no child goes hungry

Prosecution in Colin John murder trial wrapping up in Duncan

John on trial for stabbing death in Chemainus in 2016

15 new Indigenous teacher training seats added at Cowichan VIU campus

Thorne said the new Indigenous teacher education curriculum that is planned at VIU

Breakfast with Santa a Ladysmith staple

Nearly 700 people took part in this annual charity event

Christmas comes alive in Crofton

Parade entries light up the night and rain holds off

Man caught on camera allegedly trying to defraud ICBC

Auto-insurer warns B.C. drivers to record info after crashes

Warning issued as forecast calls for 20-foot waves in Tofino

Dangerous waves, strong currents and upper-shoreline flooding expected for Tofino-Ucluelet area

Oil tanker ban to be reviewed by committee

Indigenous groups for and against Bill C-48 travel to Ottawa to influence the Senate’s decision

An 800-pound pig named Theodore needs a forever home, B.C. society says

‘Theodore is not destined to be somebody’s bacon’

Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award

Derek Cornelius and Chilliwack native, Jordyn Huitema were named Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

B.C. teen MMA fighter shows heart

Young Unity MMA competitors bring home Ws

2,000 Canadians died of an overdose in first 6 months of the year

New data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows the crisis is not subsiding

Another B.C. city votes to ban single-use plastic bags

First six months of proposed ban would focus on education, not enforcement

Most Read