Shirley Bond was in fine form when she addressed the Chamber of Commerce last week.
The speech was billed as being about the ‘balanced’ budget, but it was really about the election. And she left no doubt what she will, or at least hopes, to be campaigning on. The so-called balanced budget will be one of them.
Bond and the Liberals will be hammering and yammering about the “fifth balanced budget” in a row with the insinuation, of course, that an NDP government would never be able to achieve such a feat.
But is ‘Balanced Budget 2017’ really balanced? Well it’s about as balanced as I am after a few pops on the way home.
The Liberals are balancing the ‘operating’ portion of the budget. The capital portion, however, is racking up debt like never before.
Bond is prepared for the argument.
“Yes, we have increased our debt on the capital debt side,” she said. “Critics will forget to tell you why. It’s because we borrow to build. We’re talking about new bridges, new roads, new highways. The place where we can add debt, is on the building side. So we paid off the operating debt, that crushing debt that drags all our interest costs … But we are going to continue to build in this province.”
Borrowing for operating costs “is where you put your groceries on your credit card. It’s that day-to-day expenditure.”
That’s true. And that’s bad. No question. However, borrowing to, say, put a new roof of the house, is, according to Bond the best thing since that sliced bread that you put on your credit card. Listening to Bond, we should be proud of the fact we’re borrowing money like there’s no tomorrow to build stuff.
The only problem is borrowing to put food on the table or to put a roof over our head, is still borrowing … we still have to pay the money back.
The other big campaign plank will, of course, be jobs. The province has added 222,200 jobs since the Liberals unveiled their Jobs Plan. The cry of a million jobs by 2020, 2022, or perhaps sometime in the future, has been abandoned. Now it’s a boast of creating 222,200 new jobs in the province and, and Bond pointed out at least three or four times in her speech, those numbers come from Statistics Canada, not some Liberal PR guy in a backroom.
Fair enough … them’s bragging rights, for sure.
Prince George-Mackenzie NDP candidate Bobby Deepak, in his campaign speeches, has been retorting “jobs for who?” while trying to paint the Liberals as helping only corporate interests. He should be howling “jobs where?”
Bond will have easy time defending 222,200 new jobs in B.C. since 2011. But the Jobs Minister will have a tough time defending where those jobs have gone. Earlier this year the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a report pointing out that all the regions of B.C., other than the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, lost jobs last year.
Being the veteran that she is, Bond is ready for that too.
“Not every region of the province is feeling the same degree of benefit,” she said. “Whether it’s employment numbers, whether it’s economic growth, there are differences across British Columbia. We embrace that situation. It’s not something that we want to hide from or not talk about.”
Then she pointed out the rural economic strategy that the Liberals rolled out about six weeks ago. The only problem with the rural economic strategy is that, essentially, it’s a list of funding announcements made outside the Lower Mainland. Putting some pavement down along Highway 16? It’s part of the rural economic development strategy. Funding a program in Burns Lake? It’s part of the rural economic development strategy.
The only real piece is the Rural Dividend Fund, which hands out money to community groups and organizations for one-off projects. For example, Tabor Mountain Recreation Society is getting $100,000 to build some trails. Great project and the funding is great, but it’s hardly a rural economic development strategy and it’s already being done by Northern Development Initiative Trust, which has a bigger pot than the $25 million in the Rural Dividend Fund.
In my mind, a rural economic development strategy would tackle the very real issue of allowable annual cuts that were elevated due to the mountain pine beetle, are now about to be reduced, and the subsequent job losses that will ensue. Instead, the main plank of the rural economic development strategy is $40 million to expand high speed internet into rural areas because, as Bond pointed out, businesses need internet to function in this day and age. The internet upgrade is super, but unless there’s a Jeff Bezos hiding in Atlin, it hardly constitutes an economic development strategy.