As a watchdog on government spending, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) has been as busy as the proverbial beaver this past month. Hardly a day goes by without the province announcing a new program, initiative or funding increase. In fact, since the end of December, the government has announced a whopping $580 million in spending.
Granted, some of that money is not new, some is multi-year program spending and some is partnered with other levels of government, but the trend is clear: spend, spend, spend. Is the Liberal?s sudden change in direction on the fiscal roadmap due to an election and what does the opposition have to say?
Expectedly, the government says that its recent flurry of spending has nothing to do with an election but is the result of a robust economy that has opened up some fiscal room for areas that are ?under-funded.?
A cursory look at the government?s news releases for the past month reveal many ?under-funded? areas, to list but a few: grants to local governments to participate in the never-ending, never-producing British Columbia Treaty Process, funding for recreation programs in north Vancouver Island, tax dollars for an already thriving tourism industry, the $25 million Western Economic Partnership Agreement for privileged industry folk, and more tax dollars for communities to build Olympic sports venues with precious infrastructure dollars!
But that?s not all, the government has also announced a host of spending targeted to groups that have been able to make a headline, like the film, mining and forestry industries. And there?s money earmarked for groups the Liberals don?t traditionally poll well with, such as, women, safety support for mental health workers, and of course more money for our schools.
This is a significant departure from the fiscal philosophy that got the province in the black and begs the question, is this a new Liberal approach? Would the next four years focus on increasing spending, unraveling all the accomplishments of the past four years?
According to the finance minister, the upcoming budget will see some tax relief, especially for low-income earners, debt payment, and as we have already seen, increased spending. It appears that tax cuts and the province?s historic debt are still on the government?s agenda but spending is the new priority.
The Liberal?s new style of spending has earned them harsh criticisms from NDP leader, Carole James. But rather than criticize the raft of spending announcements, or the amount of tax dollars being shoveled out of provincial coffers, James simply says the Liberals are trying to buy votes and that they are only restoring spending that they cut a few years ago. James herself has committed to $300 million in spending since December and she?s not even in the legislature yet! For James, the idea of increased spending is not offensive, it?s the notion that it?s politically motivated. The ?Pollyanna? criticisms by the NDP leader don?t hold much water with taxpayers that have been around longer than one election.
Before asking any more questions of the Liberals, Carole James needs to answer a few questions herself, such as, how would you characterize BC?s economic performance today? How would you have turned the government?s books from red to black in one mandate? Do you believe that tax reductions spurn economic growth? Do you think BC?s tax regime is competitive? Is debt repayment a priority for the NDP? Before jumping all over the Liberals for not spending enough, or at the right time to the right group, why won?t Carole James tell BC voters what she would do?
Both major parties are an open book and voting day is only a few months away. The Liberals are apparently on a new course and the NDP on no course. Voters will rightly demand clarity before May?s vote, but n the meantime consensus is emerging on one issue for both parties: treasury is ripe for the picking.
British Columbia Director
Canadian Taxpayers Federation