'We're borrowing to build as opposed to buying groceries

B.C. back in black, deep in debt

NDP denounced the pre-election spending plan as a "bogus budget" but audited books show health spending reined in, books balanced

VICTORIA – When the audited public accounts confirmed a $353 million surplus for the last fiscal year, B.C. Liberal political staff were quick to remind reporters of the NDP’s main theme from last year’s election campaign.

Pages of election quotes from almost every NDP MLA were waiting to be distributed. It was a “bogus budget,” one of the more polite tags applied to the government’s pre-election fiscal plan.

“It underestimates the costs in a whole bunch of ministries and we’re going to have to review that because all of the decisions that we propose in our platform will have to be implemented,” said then-leader Adrian Dix, describing the NDP’s plans to tax and spend more.

Skeena MLA Robin Austin targeted health care in the budget debate: “Bearing in mind that our population is actually increasing, bearing in mind that our population is aging, I think it’s very unrealistic to think we can actually limit health care expenditures to 2.7 per cent.”

As it turned out, health care spending grew by just over two per cent. It still went up by $360 million from the previous year, but after annual increases of six or seven per cent had become the norm, this is quite an achievement. New agreements remain to be negotiated with doctors and nurses, so we’re unlikely to see the same cost control results for the current year.

Ottawa’s health care transfer payment formula has changed, and increases are to be capped at three per cent a year by 2016, so this is the kind of spending restraint all provinces are expected to produce.

Education was the only other ministry to receive significant extra funding last year, up $299 million despite continuing enrolment decline. Like health, the education budget goes up every year, and these increases, along with strong student performance results, expose the rhetoric of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation about a cash-starved system for what it is.

But the biggest fabrication of last year’s election was the “debt free B.C.” slogan emblazoned on the side of Premier Christy Clark’s campaign bus.

The public accounts confirm that the province’s total debt rose to just over $60 billion, the latest of a series of increases since 2008. The much-touted balanced budget is on the operating side, while the province continues to pile up debt to pay for the Port Mann mega-project, hospitals, schools and other big infrastructure.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong emphasized the difference between capital and operating expenditures.

“We’re borrowing to build as opposed to paying for the groceries,” he said.

“Debt free B.C.” was not an outright misrepresentation, merely one of the most far-fetched promises ever delivered in the history of B.C. politics. The legislature is to convene in October so the B.C. Liberals can pass a taxation framework for the nascent liquefied natural gas industry, which the government hopes will generate the revenues to ultimately pay off the province’s $60-billion mortgage.

Meanwhile there is more capital debt ahead. The cabinet is expected to green-light the Site C dam on the Peace River this fall, a decade-long project estimated to cost $8 billion.

Along with the public accounts, the finance ministry released a list of surplus land sales. The sale of 50-odd properties, some of them closed schools, netted the provincial treasury about $310 million, which accounts for most of the surplus.

Was this “selling off the family silverware to try and balance the books,” as now-NDP leader John Horgan termed it before the election? It’s certainly not a revenue source to be matched next year.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

City of Revelstoke launches survey on communication

The results will be incorporated into the upcoming communication strategy

Portion of Highway 1 to be resurfaced east of Revelstoke this summer

Highway 1 will be resurfaced between Revelstoke Park East Gate and Glacier… Continue reading

Kinbasket Reservoir near record low levels last week

Earlier this month the Kinbasket Reservoir reached a low point of 714… Continue reading

Revelstoke Community Choir’s spring show coming up on Sunday

Join the choir and special guests on April 28 at the United Church

Memorial bench for young South Okanagan woman who died was stolen

Someone stole the stone bench that was placed at a walking bridge across the creek

VIDEO: B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Struggling B.C. adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Okanagan city caps downtown cannabis retail applications

Four currently approved, two more coming, moratorium in place, reviewed after 12 months

VIDEO: Large dust devil swirls through downtown Chase

Residents look on as column climbs about 90 feet into the air

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Helevorn comes to Kelowna on first Canadian tour

The Spaniards will bring their brand of doom metal to Kelowna May 11

Okanagan school bus driver fondly remembered

Mike Moore, 56, was Vernon School District employee for 25 years before succumbing to cancer

Most Read