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HomeBusinessBig deficits, bigger debt and bigger government: the B.C. NDP way

Big deficits, bigger debt and bigger government: the B.C. NDP way

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Bob Mackin

Budget documents presented this week demonstrate a strong increase in the size and spending of the BC NDP government.

NDP finance minister Selina Robinson on Feb. 22, 2022 (BC Gov)

Premier John Horgan government’s own projections forecast a 93% increase in government debt by the end of the 2025 fiscal year since it assumed power in 2018. And by this time next year, the public service will have added 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs, an expansion of nearly 25%.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s three-year economic blueprint forecasts more than $13.3 billion in deficits by the end of 2025 when B.C.’s debt is expected to reach $125.77 billion.

One of the reasons the BC NDP is spending more is because it is hiring more, to expand the size of government.

In 2017-18, the government employed 32,865 full-time equivalents at ministries, special offices and service delivery agencies. Over the next 12 months, the government will have boosted that number to an estimated total 42,508.

A statement from the Ministry of Finance omitted numbers and costs, but offered year-by-year categories in which employment increased. The 2020 budget was the only year that FTEs remained static.

“Broadly, these staffing increases have been in priority areas like child care, wildfire response, COVID-19 response, mental health services, CleanBC implementation, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” said the statement.

Since coming to power, the BC NDP opened the first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which has steadily grown in budget, but not, its critics say, in effectiveness. It’s getting more than $3 million extra to spend on crafting policy and research, for $24.6 million in 2022-23. Services are actually delivered via the Ministry of Health, which is growing 6.5% to $25.45 billion.

Horgan created the new B.C. Infrastructure Benefits Crown corporation in 2018 to prioritize union hiring for major infrastructure projects, like the Pattullo Bridge and Broadway subway. BCIB is expected to triple annual spending to $244.4 million in 2022-23 and increase further to $318.4 million a year later.

Premier John Horgan (BC Gov)

New in this year’s budget is a $3.2 million secretariat to implement recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Ministry of Forests, Land, Resource Operations and Rural Development is split in two, with Forests going one way with a $832.5 million budget and the rest becoming Land, Water and Resource Stewardship at $92 million this year. (Plus, the awkward acronym, Land WARS).

Last August, the BC NDP announced it would hire back 4,000 cleaners and food service workers at hospitals. The jobs were privatized 20 years ago under the BC Liberals.

Sooner than later, there will also be more MLAs. As many as six could be added after the next election, for a total 93 under amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.

Even before that happens, the Legislative Assembly receives another $6 million budget boost to $92 million for 2022-23. That’s $10 million more than in 2017-18.

The government is also doing away with the 10% salary penalty for ministers who exceed annual budgets.

The end of the holdback provision, which effectively amounts to a pay increase for cabinet, “sent the wrong message,” Robinson said Feb. 23 in Question Period. “What it says is that it prioritizes austerity and cuts over investment, even in an emergency. It forces government to balance books on the backs of British Columbians.”

Despite the spending scandal that led to Clerk Craig James being charged and tried for fraud and breach of trust, Horgan did not deliver on BC NDP house leader Mike Farnworth’s 2019 promise to add the seat of government to B.C.’s freedom of information law. That move would have given citizens a full spending picture, rather than the periodic reports that the Legislative Assembly Management Committee deem suitable for public consumption.

Horgan voted the Office of the Premier a $3.3 million annual hike last year, to $14.68 million per year. When she was asked on budget day in April 2021, Robinson hinted that Horgan would use some of the new funds for post-pandemic travel around the province. Until he won a majority in the October 2020 snap election, Horgan had to stay close to the legislature for fear that the minority government might fall.

“We’re attempting to make sure that he has access to British Columbians,” Robinson said last year.

By comparison, in the last budget under Christy Clark’s BC Liberals, the premier’s office was allotted $9 million. Back then, Horgan was a harsh critic of Clark’s spending on a staff videographer and charter flights to travel the province. So much so, that the BC NDP turned the “Air Christy” scandal into an animated campaign ad.

Horgan has a bigger trip on the horizon. Last year, Horgan told several B.C.-based diplomats that his first post-pandemic trade mission would be to European Union nations.

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