AbeBooks.com. Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.
Feed on

Cartoon by Ingrid Rice

Driven by one irrational fear, business leaders ignore host of financial pratfalls by Campbell/Clark.

The emperor has no clothes, nor has the empress for that matter.

As I read about the fawning receptions by the Vancouver Board of Trade for former premier Gordon Campbell and the present premier, I found it nauseating and bewildering — but expected.

The theme of the business folks response was, evidently, that Campbell/Clark have kept the accursed NDP from power and that no careless depletion of the public purse should interfere with the worship of gods and goddesses, no matter what financial screw-ups took place on their watch.

The myth these stalwarts of the free market perpetuate is that the NDP were so fiscally incompetent that they can never ever be trusted again, and that any qualification of that dogma means some sort of treachery to the holy cause.

(The last NDP government claimed that they had two balanced budgets, with the last one not on such a thin foundation as its predecessor. The quarrel with the last one is that it required a healthier dividend from BC Hydro than the Opposition thought advisable.)

The governments of Harcourt/Clark/Miller/Dosanjh undoubtedly often looked like the gang couldn’t shoot straight. So did the the Vander Zalm/Johnston era immediately prior. The last Social Credit government under Vander Zalm/Johnston, an unholy mess, had the good folks at the Vancouver Board of Trade giving them the applauding seal treatment because, after all, they weren’t those socialist hordes of Dave Barrett, were they?

The applauders were duly rewarded when the Liberals (hard-right Tories in drag) took office and gave them all a substantial tax cut, an assault on the treasury, even though the government was in a deficit position. Evidently these paragons of fiscal prudence didn’t know that while the NDP did double the provincial debt, that starting from a much larger base the Liberals have tripled it!

Asian Flu was real

The NDP claim — with considerable accuracy — that the crash of the Thai baht, spawning what became known as the “Asian Flu” crippled B.C.’s export economy, yet they either balanced the budget (for believers) or damned near did according to the rest. Indeed, the NDP left a treasury in good enough shape that Campbell could, within milliseconds of taking office, repay his supporters with that $1.5-billion tax cut.

The Liberals brought in a budget, with which they ran the 2009 election campaign, that had a deficit of about $500 million. This was a remarkable feat given the dire North American fiscal situation. Maybe His Excellency was a fiscal genius.

Ah, it appeared that it wasn’t quite so as we learned, for as soon as the election was safely won, it appeared that they were a little off in that budget — $1.4 billion off!

The premier and finance minister had a good excuse. They were sideswiped by the Wall Street crash and the deep recession in the United States.


It takes the breath away! This business-oriented government, when it came down to explaining their little error, said that they were side-swiped by the U.S. economy! These prudent protectors of the public purse evidently didn’t know about the Wall Street crash and U.S. recession in 2008! Somehow those little incidents had been missed when the phoney 2009 budget was crafted.

(It’s important to note that when the Asian Flu happened, it did indeed come as a surprise to the world and thus presented for the NDP a financial disaster that they could not have predicted. The same can’t be said for the recession of 2008 and its aftermath, though the BC Liberals claimed the repercussions months later caught them unawares.)

Let me tell you how a prudent minister of finance acts.

In 1979, at a time the economy seemed to be quite satisfactory, finance minister Hugh Curtis came to cabinet (I was there) and told us that the figures, according to his officials, foretold a recession just around the corner.

Curtis did as all good finance ministers do. He kept on top of financial matters by listening to public servants who, by assessing things like the sales tax revenues, income tax revenues, stumpage revenues and mining revenues, and sizing them up against government spending, could and did predict the financial weather.

Upon getting his expert opinions, he brought them to the Treasury Board and full cabinet.

Premier Bill Bennett and the Treasury Board immediately went to work. The Dentacare program, which I had just put in place, was cancelled. The sails were trimmed in every ministry. Ministers now even had to get the Treasury Board’s permission to travel and the economy cabin was where you sat.

The result was that B.C.’s government finances weathered the recession that Curtis warned us about much better than the rest of Canada’s.

You don’t reward incompetence

If the deputy minister of finance, while preparing the 2009 budget, did not warn of the consequences of Wall Street and the recession, he should be fired. However, that the premier and finance minister might not have noticed these events strains credulity to the breaking point. The obvious conclusion must be that the Campbell government knew the reality of the government’s financial shape and chose to ignore it.

I suspect that the deputy did bring this information to then-finance minister Colin Hansen and I base that, in part, on the fact that Hansen had a detailed ministry report on the issue of the HST, recommending against it, two months before the election when Hansen and Campbell said that such a prospect wasn’t even on the radar screen. In my opinion, they were being egregiously economical with the truth.

Right after the election was safely behind, no doubt by an amazing flash of light as hit Saul on the road to Damascus, Hansen saw a new radar screen which urged him to bring in the HST!

In their fawning over the Campbell/Clark government, the Board of Trade hasn’t noticed a few bits of fiscal improvidence, such as $483-million overrun on the Convention Centre, $600 million for a new roof on BC Place, the aforementioned $1.4-billion miscalculation of the 2009 budget, $1.6 billion given and now taken away by the feds for the HST, and one more big item. BC Hydro traditionally has paid, annually, several hundreds of millions by way of dividend. That is no longer possible, I’m afraid, because thanks to the government’s right-wing commitment to private power, BC Hydro is now bankrupt — or I should say that, if it was in the private sector, it would at best be in bankruptcy protection.

As the late U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money!”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the Campbell/Clark government will stand mute as Enbridge pipelines will despoil what Grace McCarthy called Super Natural B.C., then stand aside as tankers destroy our coast.

There’s the Liberal record in a nut shell. And it’s the NDP the Vancouver Board of Trade is afraid of?

Leave a Reply