Now that the initial shock of the Trump election is behind us, we can focus on the next big date on the political calendar: the BC provincial election on May 16. In BC, we have a government that is showing signs of having been in office too long. The Liberals have been rewarded for their tax and regulatory policies with $12 million in donations in 2016 — including $200,000 contributions each from 2300 Kingsway Residences and John Redekop Construction, as well as a number of $100,000 donations from such parties as MCL Motors 2010, Teck Resources Limited and Seaspan ULC. These are among the largest donations given to a political party anywhere in Canada, and, of course, they help to explain why the Liberals can afford to run personal negative attack ads so far ahead of the election. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Manitoba have all banned corporate and union donations and put a fairly strict cap on the size of allowable private contributions. Instead of clinging to the phoney argument that “real-time disclosure” of donations is the next big thing in democratic reform, BC can and should do likewise. But it won’t, without a change of government.
It can be argued that the BC economy is the healthiest in Canada right now because the oil sector in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland is depressed; because BC has a more varied resource base combined with continuing strong Asian demand; and because of the paper profits that come from Vancouver’s real-estate boom. Yet none of those three factors necessarily mean that we have a good government. They only help to obscure the record of a government that has been mediocre and unable to correct itself, as evidenced by the rising public debt, which has grown from $8,377 per capita when the NDP left office in 2001 to $13,942 by the end of 2016 (source: TaxTips .ca). Here is what happened: big business and affluent Vancouverites were given some nice tax reductions by then-premier Gordon Campbell, which Campbell then hoped to finance by bringing in a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) that would raise a lot more revenue from everyone else. When the HST fell through, the cuts for business and the wealthy were not reversed, so government debt continued to accumulate. That is why Christy Clark was so obsessed with Liquefied Natural Gas to bail her out. When that windfall failed to materialize, she started squeezing public education and relying more on MSP and other nickle-and-dime fees, and looking to Site C, Kinder-Morgan and other questionable projects for economic relief. The conclusion? “Governments are like diapers: they need to be changed regularly, and for much the same reason.”
Beyond these two points, there is one further concern that I have. It is what the federal Conservatives and the provincial NDP have in common: each is virtually assured of forming a government.
Mark Crawford is a political scientist and former public servant who teaches at Athabasca University.