Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Speeding, parks and post-election deep cuts

In one sense, the John van Dongen speeding scandal is a sideshow, a distraction from bigger issues.
But it was also telling, especially in light of two other campaign developments breaking at the time.
Van Dongen, who has never struck me as a wild man, turns out to be the kind of driver who makes highways more dangerous. His record was so bad that the superintendent of motor vehicles issued a four-month licence suspension.
That's bad for any politician, but especially for the solicitor general, responsible for both ICBC and road safety.
Van Dongen had promised to get tough on unsafe driving. "There is no excuse for racing or speeding." He said. "People who engage in behaviours like these can expect to face some of the most severe penalties and fines in Canada."
But when he got caught, van Dongen did offer excuses - he was busy and sometimes drove too fast, he said.
Gordon Campbell offered excuses too. The important thing, he said, was that van Dongen had acknowledged his mistake publicly.
Sort of. Van Dongen lost his licence a week before he told the premier. Only then was responsibility for road safety and ICBC taken from him. He initially would not say how many tickets he had received.
And Campbell said he wouldn't ask van Dongen to step down from cabinet. (He obviously has a problem in all this. If the premier doesn't have to step down for drunk driving, why should cabinet ministers who lose their licences for speeding?)
After a weekend of criticism - especially from the families of people killed by drunk driving - van Dongen did the right thing and resigned from cabinet.
It was wrong, by his standards, to stay, he said. (He also acknowledged nine speeding tickets in five years, including two for being way over the limit.)
Campbell apparently has lower standards.
Carole James, after two weeks of sputtering campaigning, seized on the premier's position as an example of arrogance, lack of transparency and hypocrisy. (Campbell had called for an NDP candidate to drop out of the race after he posted some stupid pictures on his Facebook page; the man did.)
Which leads to the two other developments. The news that the government is planning to close provincial campgrounds this summer and lay off park wardens to cut spending.
And a Statistics Canada report that, rather than growing as the government expected, B.C.'s GDP actually declined last year by 0.3 per cent, the first decline in 25 years. Only Ontario fared worse in 2008.
The campground closures and job cuts, according to Environment Minister Barry Penner, are to reduce spending. The Environment Ministry is among eight of 20 ministries to face budget cuts next year,
By 2011, the last year in the three-year plan, the Liberals are projecting that half the ministries - 10 - will have budgets lower than they had last year, despite inflation and population increases.
That reflects the Liberals' pledge to run small deficits for two years before returning to balanced budgets. Campbell has also pledged during the campaign to stick to the deficits forecast in the budget.
That leads to the StatsCan growth figures. The budget is based on growth of one per cent last year and a decline of 0.9 per cent in 2009.
The 2008 number is apparently wrong, off by 1.3 per cent. The 2009 number is suspect.
And lower growth means lower government revenues - about $150 million to $250 million for each percentage point.
Which would leave a returning government, given Campbell's commitment, with no alternative but even more cuts.
If the government is willing to cut family camping opportunities and lay off park wardens at a time when employment is an issue, what lies ahead?
And if accountability on issues like speeding cabinet ministers is a low priority for Campbell, then the public might worry about accountability on bigger issues after the election.
Footnote: The New Democrats also need to come up with answers. Their fiscal plan is based on the Liberal budget. If the budget has inflated revenues, the party needs to say how it will address the issue - spending cuts, more taxes or bigger deficits. The NDP now proposes three deficit years as opposed to the Liberals' two.


DPL said...

Speaking of Ding Dong and his driving habits, I recommend Reasides cartoon in the Times Colonist today, Tuesday. Seems VanDongen is in trying to get a ballot athe polling station. She says she figures its him but needs some identifcation. A BC Drivers License.! As usual Raeside adds a few extra little things that causes one to chuckle. There is little to chuckle about in this election, and should King Gordo return to power, there will be much less joy in the province. Unless of course one is a freind of Gordo's

Anonymous said...

Notice that Van Dongen Waited until AFTER his name was on the ballot to make his announcement.

Anonymous said...

if the Liberals get re-elected, very deep cuts indeed. Amputation of all four limbs.

Anonymous said...