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Tax cuts are a failure.
by Jim Sinclair, President BC Federation of Labour

We Need Practical Ways to Spur Economy

Remember the election pledge of "higher pay cheques?"

On Labour Day 2001, British Columbians were basking in the glow of a $ 2.2 billion dollar tax cut their new Premier promised would drive BC to number one on Canada's economic charts. It hasn't happened. Tax cuts are a failure.

Tens of thousands of British Columbians are spending the holiday weekend preparing for a long, tough, jobless winter. The provincial government has acknowledged that our province tipped into recession last year.

A single mother of two girls who wrote to a Victoria paper last month put a human face on the crisis. Social assistance cuts mean that "after living in my house for 14 years we are being evicted because I couldn't pay my rent last month. I have been looking for a job since September. Last week I was hired for two days a week. It's a start, but half of it will go to day care. We'll be on the street just in time for winter."

Our province's manufacturing sector saw employment shrink by 47,000 jobs last year. Very modest gains in other private sector part-time employment were more than wiped out by the elimination of thousands of vital public sector jobs in health care, environmental protection, social services and education. Despite some job growth this summer, the unemployment rate is well above the level experienced a year ago.

BC's forest sector is being hammered by the softwood lumber crisis. Four thousand jobs are already gone and 14,000 to 20,000 more will follow this year if a resolution is not found. Resource communities, facing lay-offs, hospital closures, school closures and service cuts, fear they are heading into a death spiral.

BC's union movement appealed to Premier Gordon Campbell last year to convene an economic summit of business, government and labour leaders to develop positive strategies for jobs and investment. Mr. Campbell laughed and challenged doubters to return their tax breaks.

But one year later, most British Columbians have long since seen their tax cut clawed back in Medical Services Plan increases, tuition hikes, user fees, minimum wage cuts and lay-off notices. (You can calculate how much of your tax cut is left, if any, at ahttp://www.bcpolicyalternatives.org/ costshift/).

Now, more than ever, we have to focus on protecting and creating jobs in this province. In fact, the Premier Campbell announced in July that would be his new priority.

But his actions are taking us in the opposite direction. Just this summer his government has:
Approved the privatization of core BC Hydro services to Accenture, a Bermuda-based multinational, as the first phase of privatization of BC Hydro, with all that means for price hikes, brown-outs and lost jobs;
Authorized BC Ferries to contract with overseas shipyards to repair our ferry fleet, putting at risk the jobs of 1,500 skilled shipyard workers despite compelling evidence the savings will be slim to non-existent; and
Sat silently as Telus Corp., its debt reduced to junk bond status slashed 6,000 jobs in BC and Alberta while CEO Darren Entwhistle pocketed a 110 percent pay increase to almost $1.3 million.

This is no time for cheap politics. Working families are looking for a positive plan to generate investment and jobs while protecting vital public services.

There are some simple things Premier Campbell can do today to assure BC's working families he's serious about protecting our economy:
Roll back his government's efforts to break-up, privatize and deregulate BC Hydro so consumers and businesses can be assured of steady supplies of affordable, sustainable-produced electricity;
Impose a moratorium on log exports and step up assistance to resource communities;
Maintain health and education funding at last year's levels and impose a moratorium on privatization to protect vital community services;
Roll back tuition fees to last year's levels and provide the necessary funding to the K-12 and post-secondary education systems to give our kids the education they need to find economic opportunity;
Make the investment in skills and training our economy needs to prosper;
Pledge to respect contracts, including collective agreements, to restore investor confidence in dealing with our province;
Sit down with aboriginal leaders in a serious way to overcome the negative effects of the referendum on land claims, which postponed resolution of one of the largest barriers to new investment in this province; and
Re-instate a policy that directs all ministries and crown corporations to give preference to BC businesses and suppliers for all purchases.

These are practical and affordable steps to rebuild our economy.

Finally, he should take up our challenge to sit down for a frank discussion with business, community and political leaders around the province to chart a new plan for the province that seeks growth and social equity. Will the Premier respond? He must.

The good news in a difficult time is that British Columbians are working from one end of the province to the other -- through marches, rallies, petitions, protests, letters to the editor and every other democratic tool -- to make sure the government listens to the people.

And that's worth celebrating.

The Columbia Journal
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