Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Campbell's $2 billion doomed bet on keeping his job (with your money)

I thought the budget consultation process hit bottom in 2004.
But Gordon Campbell took things to a new low with his TV announcement of an arbitrary 15 per cent tax cut, a desperate, doomed move to hang on to his job at the expense of the Liberal party and the democratic process.
The legislature finance committee - six Liberal MLAs, four New Democrats - travels the province each fall to hear suggestions for the February budget.
It’s a big deal for many people. Business groups propose tax shifts, advocates make the case for spending on schools or health care. People send e-mails or briefs on what they think should be priorities. Many presentations are thoughtful and well-researched.
And the committee writes a report that, theoretically - though rarely practically - shapes the budget.
This year, the government noted that an improving economy offered opportunities. There was an extra $2 billion over the next three years available for initiatives.
"What would you do with additional resources?,” it asked. “Would you fund new programs and services, would you reduce the debt, or would you cut personal income taxes?"
So chambers of commerce and arts groups and non-profits and individuals prepared their submissions. People already working 10 hours a day worked longer to offer their ideas.
Then Campbell went on TV and announced a 15-per-cent tax cut that wiped out that $2 billion, before the committee even started preparing its report.
It was a grand insult. The committee had travelled to 14 communities and done videoconferences with people and organizations in another nine. A lot of effort had gone into hundreds of submissions.
And Campbell gave the finger to them. He decided on a tax cut before he even heard from all those people across the province. The consultation was a sham.
There was no reason for haste. The tax cut doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. The committee was to report by Nov. 15.
If Campbell had delayed his TV address three weeks, he could have read the committee report and learned what British Columbians believed the budget priorities should be. That would have been polite.
He didn’t, which speaks of a certain contempt for all those people and groups working on their budget submissions.
The New Democrat MLAs withdrew from the committee in protest.
The loyal Liberals defended the premier’s tax cut announcement. You would think, after listening to all those presentations and reading all the submissions, they would have urged the premier to wait a few weeks for the report.
If, as Campbell maintains, all decisions are backed by caucus, surely the Liberal committee members - John Les, Norm Letnick, Don MacRae, John Rustad, Jane Thornthwaite and John van Dongen - would have suggested the tax cut announcement could wait until the public was heard.
But either they weren’t consulted, they were silent or they were ignored. I’m keen to know which.
The previous low point in budget consultation came in 2004, when the government sent out a pre-election campaign flyer/budget consultation document to every household in the province. About 26,000 people responded with budget suggestions. But the flyer went out late, time was tight and the government threw 23,500 of the responses in the garbage and looked at 2,550 - one in 10.
Campbell, seeking political salvation, went farther and ignored every single submission.
Liberal supporters should be the angriest.
If Campbell hadn’t bet $2 billion on a doomed effort to rebuild his personal popularity, the new Liberal leader would have had the chance to announce tax cuts or measures to reduce surgical waits or investments in economic growth.
This isn’t a partisan, or left-right issue, whatever that means.
It’s about bad behaviour, contempt for citizens, docile elected representatives, abuse of power and the reckless spending of $650 million a year.
And it brings shame on the government, and all those who went along with the abuse.
Footnote: First Call, an advocacy group for children and youth, probably speaks for a lot of the organizations - business groups, non-profits, community organizations - who presented to the committee. First Call encourages members to engage in the democratic process, the group noted. But it asked why people should spend time preparing recommendations if the government is going to do whatever it wants anyway. Campbell’s answer should be interesting.


Anonymous said...

The imperious 15% tax cut was a reflection of the cataclysmic 25% tax cut that marked the BC Liberal's first day in office in 2001 - Campbell never consulted anyone on that cut either... in fact he lied about the cut during the 2001 election campaign.

The 2001 25% tax cut was the 'manufactured crisis' that was the prelude to the 'structural deficit' scam that was used to unilaterally break contracts.

And still these many years later the BC Liberal MLAs are firmly in the grip of Campbell's 'Stockholm Syndrome' scams - to afraid to toss the brigand over the side.

Anonymous said...

I got a serious laugh out of this comment…

“This isn’t a partisan, or left-right issue, whatever that means.”

Its true Paul, you wouldn’t have a clue what non-partisan means.

Stuart said...

That last disparaging comment makes me wonder if Basi and Virk could still be working writing letters for the liberals. Whoever it is, get a life. Paul is one of the few fair minded columnists working in the mainstream media.

DPL said...

Gordo will have to change his spending habits when down to a mere 100,400 provincial pension, whatever he gets from Vancouver City Hall and a few directorships from people he has "helped" for while in the job. The people of BC will notice the difference with he and his little elves are gone Bye Bye Gordo we have had enough of your wild spending of our money, and lying ways

North Van's Grumps said...

Of the few comments being left here, perhaps we should all stop for a minute, okay five minutes, and read last year's presentations, whether they be public hearings witness list, written submissions, and on-line survey forms.


The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

Report on the 2010 Budget Consultations
Select Standing Committee on
Finance and Government Services

First Report


1st Session, 39th Parliament

November 13, 2009

Just think, we're only three days away from the Committee release of the 2011 Edition written in 2010 and the Premier spends every last nickle and dime last week trying to buy our votes just so he can stay in power to complete his third term and going for his fourth term.

Mark said...

Thanks for a good take on this Paul. Having put together presentations to these panels in the past, it takes a lot of work, time, effort and money to do - and though you are aware the opportunity to influence is minimal, it is not uncommon to see something that you proposed reflected back. That will only be true this time if you proposed it be entirely a tax cut.