'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

 

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

Just Posted

VidPD looking for ‘almost identical’ suspects after man robbed, rendered unconscious

The incident took place on Sept. 27 at approximately 2 a.m.

Sooke’s DeMamiel Creek project cost reduced by $200,000

Municipal staff lauded for coming up with savings, without compromising project

Light the City takes root in Greater Victoria as pandemic cancels holiday favourite parade, convoy

Five weeks of drive-thru events fill void of IEOA annual Truck Light Convoy, Santa Claus Parade

Oak Bay High head shave lives on despite COVID-19

Students hustle money for Tour de Rock under constraints of pandemic

B.C. counts 125 new COVID-19 cases, up to 1,284 active

No new deaths or health care facility outbreaks

Costs climb to more than $100K for BC SPCA to care for animals in B.C. farm seizure

Eight puppies, of the 97 animals seized have now died from parvovirus enteritis

B.C. VOTES 2020: Wilkinson to stop 24-hour camping in city parks

Ban on ‘unsafe roadside panhandling’ to be enforced

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Lessons from a pandemic: How to design a nursing home that’s safe and love-filled

A look at how one care home is battling the pandemic with the social needs of the elderly in their care

‘Bonnie’ and ‘Henry’ among latest litter of service dog puppies

B.C. Alberta Guide Dogs names two pups after provincial health officer

B.C. salmon farm opponents demand answers from DFO

First Nations, conservation groups dismayed by omission of sea lice in risk assessments

Health Canada green-lights rapid COVID-19 test

Health Canada approved the BCube test from Hyris Ltd. in the United Kingdom Sept. 23

First Nations Health Authority chief medical officer concerned with rising COVID-19 cases

“There’s still so much we don’t know and we’re learning everyday about this particular virus.”

Most Read