'We're borrowing to build as opposed to buying groceries

'We're borrowing to build as opposed to buying groceries

B.C. back in black, deep in debt

NDP denounced the pre-election spending plan as a "bogus budget" but audited books show health spending reined in, books balanced

VICTORIA – When the audited public accounts confirmed a $353 million surplus for the last fiscal year, B.C. Liberal political staff were quick to remind reporters of the NDP’s main theme from last year’s election campaign.

Pages of election quotes from almost every NDP MLA were waiting to be distributed. It was a “bogus budget,” one of the more polite tags applied to the government’s pre-election fiscal plan.

“It underestimates the costs in a whole bunch of ministries and we’re going to have to review that because all of the decisions that we propose in our platform will have to be implemented,” said then-leader Adrian Dix, describing the NDP’s plans to tax and spend more.

Skeena MLA Robin Austin targeted health care in the budget debate: “Bearing in mind that our population is actually increasing, bearing in mind that our population is aging, I think it’s very unrealistic to think we can actually limit health care expenditures to 2.7 per cent.”

As it turned out, health care spending grew by just over two per cent. It still went up by $360 million from the previous year, but after annual increases of six or seven per cent had become the norm, this is quite an achievement. New agreements remain to be negotiated with doctors and nurses, so we’re unlikely to see the same cost control results for the current year.

Ottawa’s health care transfer payment formula has changed, and increases are to be capped at three per cent a year by 2016, so this is the kind of spending restraint all provinces are expected to produce.

Education was the only other ministry to receive significant extra funding last year, up $299 million despite continuing enrolment decline. Like health, the education budget goes up every year, and these increases, along with strong student performance results, expose the rhetoric of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation about a cash-starved system for what it is.

But the biggest fabrication of last year’s election was the “debt free B.C.” slogan emblazoned on the side of Premier Christy Clark’s campaign bus.

The public accounts confirm that the province’s total debt rose to just over $60 billion, the latest of a series of increases since 2008. The much-touted balanced budget is on the operating side, while the province continues to pile up debt to pay for the Port Mann mega-project, hospitals, schools and other big infrastructure.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong emphasized the difference between capital and operating expenditures.

“We’re borrowing to build as opposed to paying for the groceries,” he said.

“Debt free B.C.” was not an outright misrepresentation, merely one of the most far-fetched promises ever delivered in the history of B.C. politics. The legislature is to convene in October so the B.C. Liberals can pass a taxation framework for the nascent liquefied natural gas industry, which the government hopes will generate the revenues to ultimately pay off the province’s $60-billion mortgage.

Meanwhile there is more capital debt ahead. The cabinet is expected to green-light the Site C dam on the Peace River this fall, a decade-long project estimated to cost $8 billion.

Along with the public accounts, the finance ministry released a list of surplus land sales. The sale of 50-odd properties, some of them closed schools, netted the provincial treasury about $310 million, which accounts for most of the surplus.

Was this “selling off the family silverware to try and balance the books,” as now-NDP leader John Horgan termed it before the election? It’s certainly not a revenue source to be matched next year.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It’s the Valley Huskers (left) and the Regina Riot (right) in the final of Football Canada’s online logo contest.
Valley Huskers face Regina Riot in final of Football Canada logo contest

Vote in the online poll to see the scarecrow named the best amateur football logo in the country

A ambulance drives past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
9 Lower Mainland hospitals to postpone non-urgent surgeries as hospitalizations surge

Record number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals across B.C.

(File)
Two injured in rollover crash on Seabird Island

One treated for serious, non-life threatening injuries

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
UPDATED: Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

Memorial for Travis Selje on 64th Avenue in Cloverdale, west of 176th Street. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Epilepsy-defence driver found not guilty in crash that killed Surrey teen Travis Selje

Accused testified she has no recollection of the crash and believes she had an epileptic seizure that caused the collision

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

Firefighters carry equipment from the scene of Monday’s Willoughby fire. The April 19, 2021 blaze turned the Alexander Square development at the corner of 208th Street and 80th Avenue to rubble. (Rob Wilton/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley Fire: The aftermath of the inferno

The scene remains active as investigators work to determine a cause

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

A Mercedes SUV is covered at a gas station in the Clayton area following a deadly shooting there on Sept. 28, 2019. Carlos Monteith, the man charged in the Clayton shooting, was sentenced April 22 on charges related to a different shooting in New West in November, 2019. (File photo)
Man gets 6.5 years in prison for shooting as he awaits trial for separate Cloverdale slaying

Carlos Nathaniel Monteith sentenced for possessing a prohibited weapon and discharging a firearm with intent

Most Read