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(Published in the Abbotsford News week of Feb. 20, 2006)

Politics behind the small-L Liberal budget

John Pifer

British Columbians could be forgiven for thinking an NDP government was back in power in Victoria as the provincial Budget was unveiled on Tuesday.

But no, this small-l Liberal juggling of the taxpayers’ billions was from the BC Liberals of Premier Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Carole Taylor. With hundreds of millions more being added to education (up $121m), training and apprenticeships (up $400m) and child protection and support services (up $200m), one could be forgiven for viewing the Budget documents as more NDP orange than Liberal red.

Throw in $72million more for more social workers, $300million added to homeowners’ grants and an ever-increasing provincial debt, now forecast to top $40billion by 2008, and it is certainly not a typical BC Liberal/Social Credit document.

The prime reason for this, pure and simple, is political damage control.

With a strengthened NDP Opposition beating up on the Libs pretty well every week since the 2005 election in the all-important media wars, the government simply had to do something about child protection services and the disorganized chaos that is that ministry.  When NDP naysayers boast about how it was they who forced the government to act to restore some of the services by exposing the hundreds and thousands of child cases unresolved, they actually hit the nail on the head.

The Liberals simply had to find ways to turn down that heat, whilst throwing a few sops to its voter base by way of modest taxation cuts to business and individuals and an adjustment upwards of taxation on luxury vehicles over $50,000.

As well as caving in on the child protection issue, something far more formidable lurks behind this Budget, and is evident in all of the financial figures – a whopping $6billion for negotiations with public sector unions. That means that $2 of every $3 in new spending will go to settle wage disputes as the bargaining intensifies this spring.

Ms. Taylor was adamant that $1billion of that which was set aside for settlements made before March 31st will be taken off the table if the unions are not prepared to deal by that deadline. We’ll see.

Virtually half of the money in the Budget -- $17.2billion – goes to public services. A most informative graph on this subject is available at the government website 

The figures are mind-boggling:

  • $7.7billion for health, or 44%

  • $3.7billion to education K-12, 21%

  • $2.25billlion to universities and colleges, 13%

  • $1.8billion to public services, 11%, and

  • $445million to social services.

Ms. Taylor seems more than capable of managing those finances, and she still must be considered a leading contender to replace Mr. Campbell as Premier if he has to be shunted to the sidelines to give the Liberals any hope of another election victory in 2009. How this Budget plays out may well have a bearing on that situation.

And as to a 1% cut in the 7% provincial sales tax that was widely speculated, don’t be silly. This is not an election year. That cut will come … but far closer to Election Day, of course. It’s called politics!.

Veteran B.C. journalist/broadcaster John Pifer may be reached at


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