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.
Posted by paul at 6:35 AM