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

Police investigating man’s death in Winlaw

Foul play not established, but major crimes unit is investigating

Woman raising funds to save historic Rossland piano

Rare Steinway piano was in Miners Hall for a century, but was headed to the dump

West Kootenay opinion sought on health care issues

Rural Evidence Review getting strong response to survey call-out

West Kootenay opinion sought on health care issues

Rural Evidence Review getting strong response to survey call-out

By-election date set for Nakusp village council

Voters will be turning out to choose a replacement for Janis Neufeld

VIDEO: Protesters in Penticton gather to rally against sleeping-on-sidewalk bylaw

The proposed bylaw would outlaw sitting or lying on the city’s downtown sidewalks

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen Bhavkiran Dhesi

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

New poll suggests one-third don’t want politicians to wear religious symbols

Local politicians shouldn’t be allowed to wear hijabs, crucifixes or turbans on the job, survey suggests

Raptors fans far from home adjust plans to watch pivotal playoff game

Raptors currently lead the playoff series 3-2, and a win Saturday would vault them into NBA finals

Five takeaways from the Court of Appeal ruling on B.C.’s pipeline law

It’s unclear how many tools are left in B.C.’s toolbox to fight the project

Kootenay man arrested and charged in 2015 murder

Nathaniel Jessup 32 of Creston has been charged with the second-degree murder of Katherine McAdam and offering an indignity to a body.

Most Read