Politicizing the budgeting process

When the federal election was called last week, British Columbians were put in the untenable position of not having a debated and voted on provincial and federal budget.

Both governments will be operating on interim finance measures, and be able to spend taxpayers’ money without the scrutiny and permission of the elected members of the two respective Parliaments.

Whatever happened to former Social Credit Premier Bill Bennett’s rallying cry of “not a dime without debate?”

In recent years, the federal government’s budget has become a focal point for political posturing and electioneering rather than an attempt to achieve a collaborative vision for Canada, which elected members of Parliament and the people of Canada can rally around.

In previous years, the political brinkmanship surrounding the budget has merely led to deeper ill will between the political parties to the detriment of good government for Canadians.

This year, it looks like the budget will take us over the edge into a costly election that will likely lead to a Parliament, which isn’t much different than it is now – meaning future federal budgets will involve more posturing and more brinkmanship.

A minority Parliament should be a clear signal to all federal political parties that none of them have a mandate from the people of Canada to govern independent of the others.

The federal budget should, therefore, be viewed as the best opportunity to collaborate with the best interests of all Canadians in mind, not as an opportunity to engage in one-upmanship and crass partisanship.

On the provincial scene, we haven’t had a real budget since before the 2009 election and the introduction of the HST after that election.

With our fixed election date established in May every fourth year, the provincial budget is used as an election platform for the governing party, which can also go to the polls without the books for the previous fiscal year being balanced and independently assessed by the Auditor General.

The provincial situation can be remedied by changing the province’s fixed election date to the fall and, thereby, forcing the governing party to introduce a real budget in the spring of each election year. The people of British Columbia will then also have the benefit of the Auditor General’s independent assessment of the government’s finances in the June prior to a fall election.

Budgets are too important to be used as political footballs. As citizens, we must demand all politicians and political parties stop using them as such.

We should also demand that political leaders adhere to the fixed election date legislation that is in place both federally and provincially. This legislation is supposed to take the “politics” out of dissolving Parliament; it’s designed to prevent the premier or prime minister from using a bump in the polls as an excuse to dissolve Parliament.

Finally, election platforms should give voters a clear indication of what each party’s spending priorities (or budget) would be should they form government. Failure to follow through on these election promises is a major reason for cynicism among voters.

One way to address this, and add more integrity to elections, would be to require all political parties to present election platforms that are specific, detailed, costed and validated by a third-party before an election, and then monitored and reported on by the Auditor General after an election.

Bob Simpson the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.