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Volume Ten, Number Two   March 2005

A Golden What!!?

Marco Procaccini

If you ever were questioning whether the BC Liberals, and their elite BC Business Council masters, can really manage the provincial fruit stand, last Tuesday’s budget should give you the answer: they can’t.
The monster $30 billion budget, hailed by Premier Gordon Campbell as the beginning of a “golden decade,” was brought in with extra-hyper public relations and sloganeering in the corporate media, in particular the Global Canwest monopoly, about how great our economy is supposedly doing, and how the BC Liberals’ policies are, at least in part, to be credited.

But anyone who looks at this budget in detail, and compares it with the actual facts about our economy, and the Liberals’ overall performance in the last four years, one can’t help realize that “golden” can also be the colour of some pretty foul stuff.

First, our economy. It’s supposedly “booming,” right?

Wrong. Statistics Canada puts our current jobless rate at between 6.5 and seven per cent—which is only a slight improvement over last year, and generally steady rate over the last four years.

And of the jobs that have been created, most are low paying part-time positions with little room for advancement. This, added to the Liberals’ gutting of several public sector union contracts and laying off workers, and lowering the minimum wage, has resulted, according to both Statistics Canada and several bank reports, an almost $2-dollar per hour drop in wage rates.

Not surprisingly, this has resulted in continued overall stagnant consumer spending and skyrocketing consumer debt. With consumer markets being so modest, it’s no wonder that a 2004 study by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives found that capital investment is actually lower now than it ever was during the tenure of the NDP.

In fact, the provincial Gross Domestic Product, the rate of measure of how the economy grows, is also less now than the NDP days—actually shrinking in 2002 under the Liberals. So much for “booming.”
Second, the budget revenues. So where is the government getting its cash?

It’s true that while the economy is not booming, it’s also not in recession, as real estate and construction continue to hum due to 50-year record low interest rates, and mining and forestry are slowly picking up due to rising world market commodity and utility rates for natural gas and oil.

So, BC is in fact now a “have province,” like the Liberals say, right? Wrong. BC is now eligible for equalization payments from the federal government, the money Ottawa pays out to provinces to ensure they can maintain their nationally accepted social safety standards, to the tune of about $1.5 billion. In addition, for the first time in over 15 years, the federal government is putting tax money back into provincial transfers, especially for health care.

With this situation, it’s quite difficult for a government—any government—to run a surplus budget.
So, in other words, the newfound revenues that have given the provincial government such its $1.7 billion budgetary surplus this year aren’t because of the Liberals’ policies, but in spite of them. The Liberals have in fact done absolutely nothing to stimulate BC’s economy and have actually damaged it, possibly in ways that may take decades to recover from. They are simply relying on the current good fortunes of low interest rates and high commodity prices to carry them. Not very insightful governance.

Of course, this fundamental fact hasn’t stopped the Liberals and the corporate elite that owns them from trying to take the credit. Already, misleading television ads, funded by the BC Business Council, displaying the BC Liberal banner and saying “isn’t it great to have BC working again,” have appeared in the run-up to the May election.

And of course, corporate media propagandists throughout the Global Canwest Empire are hypocritically giving the Liberals part marks for the economic activity.

Interestingly enough, these same hacks were refusing to give the former NDP government credit for producing three surplus budgets—two in the billion-dollar range—in the late 1990s, when interest rates were much higher, commodity and utility rates were much lower and Ottawa was cutting provincial funding, not increasing it like today.

In fact, the BC Auditor General reported in 2001 that the NDP had left the provincial book in such good shape; the incoming Liberal government’s own review committee was forced to admit there was no problem. Only six months later, the Liberals had to invent a fallacious non-existent “structural deficit” as an excuse to initiate the deep cuts and privatization measures to pay for the huge tax bonanza they planned to give their elite corporate supporters. They then went on to bring in the two biggest deficit budgets in BC history.

Finally, the spending of the money. The Liberals say they are putting money into restoring services, tax cuts and debt reduction. That’s good, isn’t it? It would be good, if that was happening in any major way. But it isn’t.

With much fanfare, Finance Minister Colin Hansen boasted money was going back into childcare, health and education. But the CCPA estimates this money amounts to about a third of what the Liberals cut out of public services in the three previous years.

The same is true for taxes. The 0.5 per cent reduction of the sales tax announced by Hansen in the budget is in fact just a reversal of the same increase the Liberals imposed in 2002. Add to this the huge increases in taxes rates; fees and other government charges brought in by the Liberal more than offsets the tax breaks the Liberals have given since they took office. Most working class British Columbians pay more now in provincial taxes than they did before the Liberals took power.

But of course, these facts won’t get much profile in the pro-Liberal corporate media, which appears determined to see their private political party win the next election at any cost.
But repeated polling shows that despite all of the misleading Liberal hype, a majority of BC resident don’t see themselves as better off than before the Liberals took power. The facts merely show their sentiment is correct.

This “golden decade” budget will do little to improve their lot. Since it is nothing more than window dressing for the destructive trickle-down corporate policies of the BC Business Council. Clearly, in this case, “golden” is the golden of infamy, and British Columbians are growing tired of being trickled on by this regime and its masters.

Hopefully, people will translate these sentiments at the polls in the upcoming election and remove the Liberals from office once and for all.

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