Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Throne Speech a million miles from campaign promises

If the Throne Speech had been any gloomier, Lt.-Gov. Stephen Point would have had to wear sackcloth and ashes to read it.
"The worst recession in 27 years." "Seismic economic shifts that were unpredictable and brutally deceiving in their speed and force." A "maelstrom" that left "the fiscal cupboard bare."
You get the picture.
All that, the speech said, meant big changes - big cuts - are coming to government.
Throne Speeches don't lay out specifics. Those will come, at least to some extent, in Tuesday's budget.
But the speech, delivered by Point but written by the premier's office, made it clear that cuts and other changes are coming in every area of government.
The review of spending by B.C. Ferries and TransLink will be extended to Crown corporations and government agencies and health authorities and school districts. Grants to communities and agencies are to be reduced, Public sector wages will be frozen for the next four years. (The speech didn't say whether MLAs pay, which is indexed to inflation, would continue to rise automatically each year.)
The Liberals' argument is that revenues are down so much that deficits are unavoidable for the next four years.
But borrowing to meet today's needs would have to be repaid in future. The Campbell government is determined to keep that debt as small as possible. Beyond "critical health and education services," everything else is on the block.
There are three large concerns with that approach.
First, Gordon Campbell has maintained that over the last eight years government has been pared down to the essentials. Further cuts must come at the expense of those essentials.
Second, it is widely accepted that government spending in a downturn is a way of cushioning the impact. Stimulus spending isn't just about building highways - it's also about keeping people working in communities.
And third, the government has no mandate for this type of change.
Barely three months ago, during the election campaign, Campbell insisted B.C. would avoid the worst effects of the downturn. He promised a $495 million deficit this year and a smaller deficit next, before a return to balanced budgets. He pledged to deliver the spending commitments in the February budget.
Now, he says, none of those things actually turned out to be true.
Just as the Liberals' rejection of the HST during the campaign - in writing - turned out to be false. The Liberals devoted a large part of the Throne Speech to defending the new tax. None of it addressed the betrayal of pledging not to introduce the tax in May and reversing course weeks after the election.
The other striking policy shift - again not hinted at in the election campaign - is a further expansion of private power projects in B.C. with the aim of becoming a big exporter of electricity. The Liberals have always said the goal of the energy policy was self-sufficiency. Now B.C.'s rivers are to be developed to allow companies to become electricity exporters.
There were other measures announced in the speech.
Prince George will get a new Wood Innovation and Design Centre.
The controversial, $600-million plan to build a power transmission line northwest from Terrace along Highway 37 will go ahead. And the province is supporting a pipeline corridor to allow liquefied natural gas to be exported through Kitimat by tanker.
Cellphone in cars will be targeted by legislation and a few other promised bills will be introduced. The move to full-day kindergarten, in some form, will start by 2010. Private power companies will get more help.
But the main focus, the big theme, was the need to cut government spending sharply.
Campbell claimed a mandate for that approach. Voters elected the Liberals because they promised good management, he said.
It's tough to make that claim while insisting you completely bungled your economic forecast and budget - and didn't recognize the problems until after the election.
Footnote: The Throne Speech is available on the government website - gov.bc.ca - for those interested in taking a firsthand look.


DPL said...

The poor old ex judge had to read the BS written by Gordo's office. In Points job on the bench he must have heard some real faily tales, and today he read such a tale for all of us to hear. BC Best place on earth to be lied to on a regular basis

Anonymous said...

Maybe it is time for that Liar Campbell to give back his 54% raise....shouldn't he feel the pain as well by leading by example..I won't hold my breath.