I want to expand a bit on what I said on the Political Panel this morning (August 30) on the CBC.
Although it may seem ephemeral, a government’s attitude is important – very important indeed. The Liberal government hates social programs and it shows.
This morning my remarks were dealing with parks but they cover the entire system of government.
I don’t wish to be misunderstood here. Of course governments have as their principal duty the careful handling of public money. We have, however, long ago decided upon a welfare state in the best meaning of that term.
It started back in the very early years of WAC Bennett’s reign (and reign it certainly seemed to be) when he brought in a sales tax to pay for his Hospital Insurance scheme. British Columbia under WAC Bennett was also amongst the first in Canada to have a form of Medicare. These things don’t look very important now but in the 1950s they certainly did. Bennett didn’t do these things because he had to but because they each were the right thing to do.
This attitude of service to all British Columbians, not just your supporters, continued and was expanded by the Dave Barrett government of 1972-5 as it was later in Bill Bennett’s time.
There were often debates as to how much, where and when but with the exception of one or two “righties” in the government of which I was a part, a number of programs, especially in the Health Ministry, Housing and “Social Services” were started or expanded. During the five years I was there we even brought in a Dentacare program which had to be quickly abandoned because we, frankly, had underestimated the cost and the Minister of Finance, Hugh Curtis, wisely advised us that a recession was approaching and it was time we battened down the hatches.
Let me digress for just a moment on this point. Curtis, unlike current Liberal Ministers of Finance, kept abreast of trends and it is to his considerable credit that he and his able ministry were able to see the recession of the 1980s coming and have BC in much better shape than other provinces. What he and his predecessor, the late Evan Wolfe, were able to do was keep cabinet abreast of what was happening fiscally. Contrast that to the Liberals being shocked to learn, right after the May 09 election, that they had miscalculated the state of finances by over $2 Billion! As I’m sure Hugh would tell you, a finance minister should have a good idea of current financial affairs just by reading the sales tax returns, an excellent barometer. The Liberals are, and there is no other way to say it accurately, lying through their teeth.
What distinguishes this government especially is that they pay out social dollars as if they were coming out of their own individual pockets. They don’t put money into healthcare, welfare, health, the environment and the like because they know that it’s the right thing to do but because they must. And this attitude can’t help but filter down to those who administer these programs.
Let me give you an example from my time. In 1979, the City of Seattle told us that they were about to exercise their right under a 1941 agreement with the BC government, whereby they could increase their power by raising the Ross Dam which would flood the Skagit river forming a lake on our side of the border and destroy what is a wonderful, wild Skagit river so near Vancouver. Our government didn’t have to do a damn (pardon the pun) thing. It was a government policy in T.D. Pattullo’s government of 30 years before that got us into the pickle and no one, very much including the Barrett NDP government, had acted.
Bill Bennett authorized me to save the river which we could only do by giving Seattle the power they would have got from raising the Ross Dam. And we did that and the beautiful trout stream, canoeing stream, drifting stream, a jewel in our midst, was saved. We did it because it was the right thing to do.
I don’t want to give the impression that we were alone in caring about these things – the Barrett government for all its fiscal meandering, undertook reforms long necessary. Nor was I, with substantial changes in consumer law, the only reformer in our government. Much social law was extended or established by my colleagues like Hugh Curtis, Grace McCarthy and Bob McLelland to name a few … and this was a “bad old Socred government.”
There is nothing wrong and a lot right of careful spending of public money but there’s a hell of a lot wrong with meeting social obligations grudgingly, suspecting all and sundry recipients as malingerers and thieves. There is a hell of a lot wrong with denying the mentally ill the ability to be properly diagnosed and treated. With the possible exception of Rich Coleman who does seem to be approaching subsidized housing sympathetically the Liberals, like their joined at the hip federal Tory look alikes, are grinches and it shows. Advice from the Fraser Institute trumps fair and sympathetic policy.
That’s why no one should be surprised at the Campbell government’s attitude towards the environment and parks. That’s why rivers are being destroyed based upon a thoroughly disgraceful and utterly dishonest “Energy Policy” and why the Auditor-General has found that they have badly neglected our parks.
This government cares only for its friends.