In my last MLA report, which was the first in a multi-part series on provincial budgeting, I laid out a number of methods that governments use to raise revenue including taxes, royalties, dividends, fees, and the sale of assets. And I talked about how the choices that governments make have real effects on people.
I mentioned that since 2001, MSP premiums have increased by 85 per cent, and that BC Hydro rates have increased by 36 per cent. And I talked about how, since the implementation of the HST in 2010, billions of dollars in taxes have been shifted on to consumers.
But despite the fact that regular British Columbians are paying more, the actual state of British Columbia’s books is more dire than it has ever been. I believe that it is vital that you know the truth, even though the truth, in this case, is hard to take.
Since the BC Liberals took power, the total government debt has risen by $23.5 billion. That’s an increase of 70 per cent. The estimated debt by March 2013 will be $57.4 billion. But this is only a small part of the story.
Under the BC Liberals, other contractual obligations or off-book debt have skyrocketed. The total of this type of debt, which we as taxpayers are obligated to pay, is a phenomenal $96 billion. A portion of this debt is for privatized government services and privatized infrastructure projects. But I think you will be surprised to find out where more than half that $96 billion will be going.
You will remember the opposition local residents raised to the destruction of our rivers and streams for private power production. Although only a few of these projects have been built, the environmental and economic costs to the province have been great.
The owners of these private river diversion projects have signed long-term Energy Purchase Agreements with BC Hydro leaving ratepayers owing $54.9 billion. And what will we receive for all this money? Overpriced power that is produced during the spring freshet when we don’t actually need it.
As I speak to people across this area, I hear consistently that people are optimistic that we can build a better future. And I agree with them.
But as we look to that better future, we must be honest about our current financial situation.
While it will be difficult to overcome these extreme financial challenges, I feel confident that we can work together, establish our priorities and make real progress towards making British Columbia an even better place to live.
This is the second in a three-part series on provincial budgeting.
Norm Macdonald is the MLA for Columbia River—Revelstoke