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

'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

The Sooke Fine Arts Show will be online again this year, showcasing unique artworks from Vancouver Island and B.C.’s coastal island artists from July 23 to Aug. 2. (File - Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke Fine Arts Show goes virtual for second year in a row

Art exhibition and show set for July 23 to Aug. 2

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner’s report confirms cause of death of three men at Sooke River in 2020

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen drown while ‘puddle-jumping’ in pickup truck

The Pacheedaht First Nation is planning a $1-million expansion to its campground in Port Renfrew. (Pixabay photo)
Expanded camping announced for Pacheedaht Campground

$1-million project is part of the B.C. Rural Economic Recovery program

Debra Sheets, a University of Victoria nursing professor, is starting Victoria’s first Memory Cafe program for adults with dementia and their caregivers. (Photo: Debra Sheets)
Memory Cafe Victoria hopes to connect local dementia community

Adults with dementia and their caregivers will participate in weekly Zoom socializing and activities

Metchosin council introduced a bylaw at a special council meeting Wednesday, which, if approved, would limit further subdivision of a 40-acre portion of the Boys and Girls Club property. The proposed bylaw amendment will come to public hearing on March 15. (Black Press Media file photo)
Metchosin council introduces bylaw to limit subdivision of Boys and Girls Club property

Proposed bylaw amendment will come to public hearing on March 15

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

Bryan Adams with his mom, Jane Adams Clark, at Lions Gate Hospital. (Bryan Adams)
Bryan Adams gives shout out to North Shore hospital

The singer’s mom was in Lions Gate Hospital for care

Shoppers will be able to get their hands on signed bottles of Ryan Reynolds’ new gin at B.C. liquor stores this summer. (Twitter/Ryan Reynolds)
Ryan Reynold’s new Aviation Gin autographed and coming to B.C. stores

This summer 100 bottles will be available to the public for purchase across five B.C. liquor stores

OPINION SIG
SOOKE HISTORY: Triple cross piques interest in Sooke and beyond

Al Shepherd erected the cross to create greater interest in the Christian faith

Wayne Allen's graduation photo from Chemainus Secondary School. (Photo submitted)
Brother charged with murder in Vancouver Island teenager’s Ontario death

Jesse James Allen stands accused in the death of Wayne Allen, a 2020 Chemainus Secondary grad

An official investigation will be launched after VPD officers were recorded posing near a dead body at Third Beach on Wednesday morning, Feb. 24. (Screen grab/Zachary Ratcliff)
VIDEO: Vancouver officers under review for allegedly laughing, taking pictures next to dead body

Two officers were caught on video by a local beachgoer Wednesday morning in Stanley Park

Kim McGregor died in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run accident in Chemainus. (Photo submitted)
Victim identified in Valentine’s Day Chemainus hit-and-run

Kim McGregor grew up in Chemainus and had recently returned to be close to his parents

Most Read