Sunday, February 17, 2008

Throne speech surprisingly interesting

Maybe I've been doing this stuff for too long, but that seemed an interesting throne speech from the Campbell government.
It's foolish to get too fired up about the ritual. There's not necessarily a link between all those words, read by the lieutenant governor, and what government actually does.
But the speech read by the province's first aboriginal lieutenant governor - a significant milestone - had some interesting ideas. Both good interesting and bad interesting.
Take three. In education, health and climate change.
The government promised a serious look at dramatic improvements in early childhood education. A new agency will "assess the feasibility and costs of full school day kindergarten for five-year-olds." It will also look at providing parents with the choice of day-long kindergarten for four-year-olds by 2010, and for three-year-olds by 2012. The report is to be done by next spring - a few months before the election.
The change could be hugely positive, especially for kids from poorer families. The reality is that a five-year-old from an affluent family, with a stay-at-home mum and play groups and story times and junior gym is a lot more ready for kindergarten than a five-year-old growing up with a single-parent earning just above minimum wage.
A good early childhood education program would let more children start school confidently and capably. That success could carry them a long way.
And if cost is an issue, then the FSA test results could be put to good use. Start the program in the schools with the weakest performance in basic skills.
In health, there's proposals to cheer and to fear.
The government seems keen on doing things cheaper, which is good. It wants nurses to do more - sewing up wounds and such. And it wants their schooling cut from four years to three, another good change. Better more nurses - or doctors - slightly less well-trained, than a shortage.
But it's also still pitching the myth that we can't afford health care. The government wants to pass a law making "sustainability" a sixth principle under the Canada Health Act, alongside equal access to care and the rest. It's unclear what that means, but the suggestion is that access to care will be cut to reduce costs.
And maybe, at some point, there will be have to tough limits on car.
But we're spending relatively little on health care in B.C. today. Internationally, health-care costs in Canada are smaller share of GDP than most Western countries - about one-third less than the U.S.
In 1985, government health care spending was five per cent. By 1995, it had risen to 6.6 per cent. The increase has slowed since. This year, it will be about 7.2 per cent. Given our rising expectations and aging population, that's not an unreasonable increase.
Looked at another way, government health spending consumes about one-third of revenues today - as it did in 1995 and 1985.
And the throne speech promises a study of an Independent Living Savings Account. It sounds like an RRSP, except you can only use the money for care when you're old - home support or residential care.
That would benefit people with money to set aside. And those who didn't have any extra income available would subsidize their tax break.
And it raises questions how limited the government believes support for seniors in the future, if it's warning people to set aside money today if they can.
On climate change, the throne speech was alarmingly short on specifics. Campbell was clear that the government wasn't going to be deterred from tough action.
But there is a sense of a great leap into the unknown here. The targets are in place, but the government still doesn't seem to know how to get there or what it will cost.
Footnote: The throne speech included a big flood of ideas and initiatives. But there were some gaps. The big problems in the forest industry - right now and the coast, and coming in the Interior - received no real attention. And there was no mention of the Heartland, or whatever the current favorite term is. The challenges of smaller communities no longer seem a priority.

2 comments:

DL said...

It might well get a bit more interesting when the budget gets read Tuesday. It's easyt to offer the moon and stars in some speach but lets see some results.

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