Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Falcon budget, or have the Liberals conceded defeat?


I can't resist a few comments on the B.C. budget from some 4,700 kms away
First, I wonder if the budget is the last for Premier Christy Clark. It shows no connection with what she claimed as her priorities as premier. The Families First agenda and B.C. Jobs Plan seem to have been forgotten much more quickly than Gordon Campbell's Five Great Goals and other enthusiasms. This appears to be very much a Kevin Falcon budget, and absent any other apparent direction from the premier's office, a Falcon government. Which raises the question of whether Clark will continue as leader into the next election.
Second, I wonder if the Liberals are already planning for defeat in the next election. Selling off the Liquor Distribution Branch is the action of a government that doesn't expect to be around for long. The Liberals looked at the idea in their first term, and despite legitimate questions about the whether government needs to be in the alcohol business, concluded the long-term benefits in terms of revenue from the Liquor Distribution Branch were too great to give up. Pragmatism trumped principle. Seeking a one-time benefit from the sale - and getting the deed done while they can - suggests the Liberals aren't that worried about the long term. (It also indicates a lack of true prudence. Using asset sales to cover operating costs simply means tougher adjustments lie ahead.)
More significantly, this isn't a credible budget past the date of the next election. The multi-year freeze on spending in almost all ministries might be manageable, at some cost to already inadequate services. But the budget calls for a three-per-cent increase in health spending, despite a growing population and rising care costs. That can't be done without major reforms and innovation, and the government has plans for neither. SImilarly, the budget projects a 15-per-cent cut in government employees from 2010 levels by 2014 - about 5,000 fewer jobs, with no apparent plan to achieve the goals without harming critical areas like public safety. (One of the Liberals' backward steps on transparency and sound management in the last few budgets has been to quit providing staffing levels by ministry, and offer only a global number, making it impossible to know where cuts are coming.)

Footnote: The Falcon budget made me think of his comment last month on the government's 19-month fight to keep the shredded HST sales pamphlet secret. “My direction to staff was really clear: just release the damn thing,” he said. Some took that as an attempt to rewrite history - if the minister really gave the order, they reasoned, why wasn't it done. But equally, Falcon could have bee stating that he did give the order, and was overruled by the premier's office, a quiet bit of insurrection.

5 comments:

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Anonymous said...

The distance seems to add clarity; this is the fairest look at the budget I've seen.

Anonymous said...

NDPaul still cheering for the NDP....

Anonymous said...

^Makes up for Global's Keith Baldrey, G&M's Gary Mason, Tom Fletcher from Black Press, and too many other prominent media types tubthumping for the ruling party, so let's leave it at that.

The problem for the Liberals is the swing vote, but not in the usual sense: the only way this government goes down is if the BC Conservatives siphon off enough votes in enough key ridings to allow the NDP to slip through the gap. And with that the interior ridings hold the key here.

Scotty on Denman said...

Not surprised you can smell the stink of this budget from 4700 kilometres away; it is a most disingenuous piece of junk but hardly unexpected. At least I can maintain my earlier presumption that the BC Liberals are doomed as a government (which is why caucus convinced Christy to renege on her early election promise) and probably as a party, also.

I've been of the opinion that the party was mortally split by Christy's leadership win, she and her office on one side, Falcon and the rest of the Campbellites on the other. There's plenty of evidence to plausibly back this assumption.

So what is the BC Liberal reason for existence now? Depends which faction you ask. Falcon's former campaign manager has already signed on to the BC Conservatives, testing the waters, perhaps, for Kevin to sign up and usurp just like his mentor did to Gordon Wilson's Liberals when the Socreds self-destructed.

I don't believe Christy will step down before the next election, at least not willingly; she still holds the snap election card, and she alone. Maybe she has reasoned that Falcon's ambitions have given up on the party and that she will be able to rebuild, possibly in Opposition, once Campbellites are prevented, one way or the other, from incumbency; at least that way she could present new faces to replace unelectable Campbellites. Watch for a spate of resignations following the November cut-off date after which by-elections will not precipitate.

Meanwhile, the plundering will proceed with increasing fervour, the greediest Campbellites (i.e., the entire caucus minus Christy and hapless Harry Bloy) waiting the longest before bailing.

There is still plenty of time for the melting ice-burg to roll over in some unpredictable way. What's for sure is BC will be hurt even more than it has been already.