Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Liberals take B.C. in a new, colder direction

Things have been changing in B.C. since the election, for the worse.
The cuts in services and community supports and the tax breaks for businesses represent a big shift in the kind of province we're handing on to our children.
These aren't just the usual post-election initiatives, but changes that reflect a dramatic change in values.
The recession would inevitably have forced some changes on any government. But increasingly, it looks like what's really underway is a search and destroy mission aimed at programs and services that had been considered important.
These programs had all survived the Liberals' first term core review to strip government down to its essential roles.
The cuts are brutal and poorly thought out. Solicitor General Kash Heed said he didn't know that cutting $440,000 from frontline support for victims of domestic violence would be a problem. Premier Gordon Campbell didn't understand gaming grant cuts reneged on three-year commitments to charities. Both were reversed as a result of public pressure.
Hundreds of others are going ahead. Less help for autistic children, halving of support for school parent advisory committees, longer waits for health care, no repairs to leaky schools, cuts to kids sports, reduced treatment for drug addicts. The list is long.
And the loss is likely permanent. Grants to parent advisory councils can be restored before the next election, of course. But if a treatment centre has closed because funding was cut, then the resource is lost.
This goes beyond a trimming of programs. The Liberals seem to be making a structural and cultural change. The people hurt by the cuts have overwhelmingly been the already disadvantaged - children with disabilities or struggling schools or people who couldn't afford private health care. Local seniors' drop-in centres or libraries.
Cumulatively, the cuts change who we are. Over decades, British Columbians have come to set out a collective role in helping people who needed it, and the limits of that support.
Now, we have decided we will do much less. Those affected will have to accept their diminished lives.
That's a choice a society can make.
But British Columbians didn't get a chance to make that choice. Gordon Campbell ran his spring election campaign on the promise that big cuts weren't needed in B.C.
And then proceeded to make them.
These aren't temporary cuts during a recession. In fact, they are just the beginning.
Non-health spending, after a small increase this year, is to be cut in each of the next two years. This funding isn't going to be restored. (Health spending rises by about six per cent annually in the current three-year plan.)
At the same time, the government is shifting the burden of paying for the remaining services from large businesses to individual taxpayers.
The harmonized sales tax, according to Campbell, will reduce the taxes paid by businesses by $1.9 billion a year. It will also be revenue neutral, he said. The government won't be out any money.
Which means individuals will see their taxes increase to cover that shift. (Some businesses will pay more too, like restaurants. The Finance Ministry has been unable to provide any numbers on the share of the burden between the unlucky businesses and individuals.)
Again, society can make a choice to tax business less and individual families more. Lower business taxes can attract investment. Jobs are created, competition for employees raises wages and most people get enough money to pay the higher taxes, plus a bit. (Probably not the most disadvantaged, who depended on those services.)
But again, the Liberals didn't campaign on the need to reduce the tax burden on big business by raising it on everyone else. In fact, they specifically ruled out the HST.
Big, lasting changes are underway in B.C. And the people have never had a chance to say whether they approve.
Footnote: The Liberals have faltered in explaining or defending the cuts in the legislature and their support has plummeted since the election, according to the polls. The impact of the cuts and the HST, which takes effect July 1, will continue past the midpoint of the Campbell government's term.


DPL said...

As the hacking of services and programs cpontinue, I wonder if Gordon has suggested a rise in the cost of subsidized food and drink in the government restaurant? I thought not. Cutting down on the booze might improve the performance in question Period

Anonymous said...

campbell can do as he pleases and knows full well the he will be elected as many times as he pleases and if the people don`t like it. too bad! he loves to rub our noses in it because judging from our collective actions we do not deserve any better. Believe me, he gets all the praise and support a twisted person such as him needs from the fraser institute,canwest global,howe steet,

DPL said...

Now it seems that VIHA has taken the axe to a number of things. Cutting way back on MRI's, operations, closing sections of Vic general. and raising parking fees to sort out their lack of funds. May I suggest VIHA might look at their numbers of senior executives including the CEO and drop their wages a bit to help out the cause. Fat chance of that ever happening. But hope springs eternal

Anonymous said...

Want to bet the Gordo's brother, the guy from CKNW, has been reading Ayn Rand's books of sociopathic nonsense, and has passed on the toxins to Gordon himself? These all sound like policies that would be applauded by fans of Atlas Shrugged, don't they?

Samuel Godfrey said...

A good dispassionate summation. Now how about some dispassionate advice on how to press our government to change course?

paul said...

Samuel Godfrey:
Good suggestion for a column. I have little idea of how to press the government to change course, never having claimed political expertise (except in terms of corporate jostling).
But I'll ask more knowledgeable people and write on it.

Gazetteer said...

Down south, it would appear that the way that the progressive base is starting to affect change is by proving that it can raise money at the level of individual consitituents.

I wonder if such an approach could make the nut here in BC given that the differential, while huge in percentage terms, was only about $5 million, total in the last election cycle (Mr. Holman had that story). Thus, just a few thousand people shelling out an average of, say, 50 bucks a pop could seriously make a difference, especially if the donations could be targetted to the ridings of Ministers who are force to/or happily agree to announce the most egregious decisions


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Tax breaks for businesses is a good thing. It encourages businesses to prosper and when the business prosper it leads to higher income which means a bigger spending power. Spending power leads to more spending which in turn the government can collect tax like the sales tax and the service tax. Higher income also means higher tax collection for government. It all leads back to the economy. The goverment have more income to build schools for children and other amenities which is a basic for development.

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off-the-radar said...

Brilliant column Paul. Our social fabric is being deliberately torn apart.

I wonder what it will take for British Columbians to get motivated, to reclaim the province for a kind, just society. The New Zealanders finally did it after enduring years of disastrous neo-conservative policies.

Anonymous said...

Go to this website to tell the BC Government what's important to YOU for the 2010 budget: http://www.leg.bc.ca/budgetconsultations/

Anonymous said...

You see cuts to education but all these government offices seem to be keeping on managers or opening more offices such as VIHA or SD #68 which with less students hires more administration and are building more offices.

Eleanor Gregory said...

Enjoyed your column. On a related theme, I recommend an article in the November 2009 edition of The Walrus, entitled "Who Killed Canada's Education Advantage? A forensic investigation into the disappearance of public education investment in Canada," by Roger Martin.