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

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A sentencing hearing began for Joel Conway who was convicted of break and enter and sexual assault last year. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Saanich man sentenced to three years in prison for breaking into woman’s home and sexually assaulting her

Crown is asking Joel Conway be sentenced to four years for both charges, to be served concurrent

Victoria fire crews quickly extinguished a multi-unit apartment building fire near Beacon Hill Park on Oct. 30. (Courtesy of Chief Paul Bruce)
Victoria fire crews extinguish multi-unit fire near Beacon Hill Park

Two people have suffered non-life-threatening injuries

Blanshard Street, between Burdett Avenue and Douglas Street, will be closed to traffic Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 while crews repave the road. (City of Victoria)
TRAFFIC ALERT: Section of Blanshard Street will be closed this weekend

Crews will be repaving Blanshard Street between Burdett Avenue and Douglas Street

Victoria police are asking for help locating 14-year-old, high-risk missing youth, Anabella Lilly. (Victoria Police Department)
Victoria police seek help locating high-risk missing youth

Police say the circumstances under which 14-year-old Anabella Lilly went missing are ‘high-risk’

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Allentown, Pa. on Oct. 26. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
POLL: How closely are you following the U.S. presidential election?

It may feel like it’s been going on forever but the U.S.… Continue reading

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Police service dog Herc helped RCMP locate and arrest suspects in the Ladysmith area on Oct. 23, 2020, related to a stolen vehicle. (Submitted)
RCMP nab prolific property offender in Ladysmith with assist from police dog Herc

Police attempted to stop the vehicle but it fled from the area towards Chemainus.

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Most Read