By Bruce Ralston
If the 2013 provincial budget does nothing else, it confirms the Liberals know they have a major credibility problem.
Why else would the Liberals spend almost $17 million of public money on partisan ads that, according to leaked documents, are to help “decrease the credibility gap” of government.
Why else would the Liberals hire an outside economist to try to give their budget a little more legitimacy?
It also confirms the Liberals are again willing to resort to the tricks they used prior to the 2009 election, tricks that hid a massive deficit and led directly to the harmonized sales tax.
It’s clear the Liberals have run out of ideas and have given up trying to tackle the challenges facing British Columbians today. There’s nothing for families struggling to make ends meet today, for resource dependent communities or to address our environmental and climate challenges.
This is a budget founded on dubious one-time asset sales, unrealistic cuts to healthcare and the abandonment of major areas of our resource economy, such as forestry and mining.
The Liberals’ primary fix is to sell off our valuable lands and assets in a one-time fire sale. Never mind how short-sighted this is, they are booking revenue now on properties that have not yet been sold.
Essentially, they’re taking cheques to the bank before they’re even written.
Respected economist Don Drummond wrote a report for the Ontario government that addressed the issue of asset sales. He advised, “do not count chickens before they are hatched. If assets are to be sold, never incorporate any revenue from such planned sales into a budget before the fact.”
But that’s exactly what the Liberals have done.
They also have a major credibility problem when it comes to protecting healthcare. In the 2009 pre-election budget, they promised to protect healthcare but right after election day health authorities were ordered to find hundreds of millions in savings.
We have no reason to believe this won’t happen again. That’s because, just like in 2009, the Liberals are being willfully unrealistic about the cost pressure on our healthcare system.
Budget 2013 is looking like a cruel re-run of the Liberals’ 2009 pre-election budget.
That was the budget that then-premier Gordon Campbell promised would have a deficit of $495 million “maximum.” That deficit ballooned to almost $2 billion after the election.
The Liberals also promised, in writing, that they wouldn’t implement an HST ahead of the 2009 election.
We all know how that promise turned out. How could we forget? Families are still paying the HST nearly 19 months after voters rejected that tax shift from big corporations to working families and small businesses.
Yet today, the Liberals say “trust us.”
While British Columbians struggle to find skills training, get a job, or take care of loved ones, today’s budget offers almost nothing right now when it is needed.
For example, we know that 80 per cent of the jobs of tomorrow will require some form of post-secondary education or training. Despite this, the B.C. Liberals’ 2013 budget cuts post-secondary education yet again.
This budget predicts a reduction in the number of student spaces in college and university, less money for student assistance and less support for advanced education. And we see no new investment in apprenticeship and industry training.
Even the new child tax benefit doesn’t start until 2015.
There is also nothing new to support our creative and innovation sectors, such as film, television, digital media, life sciences and high tech.
We are disappointed to see that there is nothing in this budget that will address climate change. The fact that carbon tax revenues will continue to be recycled through tax reductions and not used to fund emission reduction is a lost opportunity.
The Liberals would rather dream up “fantasy funds” that promise unrealistic benefits decades from now than take real action today.
They have shown they’re not up to the challenges facing British Columbians today.
In contrast, Adrian Dix and B.C.’s New Democrats are offering change for the better, one practical step at a time.
This op-ed originally appeared in the Vancouver Sun.