04.20.2017 04:03 PM

The BC NDP’s bad week

First came John Horgan leering at Christy Clark in the first B.C. Campaign 2017 debate: “I’ll watch you for a while. I know you like that.”

That leering, creepy, condescending remark is a Kim Campbell Week One Level disaster, folks. Horgan — sounding rather like Groper-in-Chief Donald Trump — is going to be hearing about that one for a long, long time.

And then came the B.C. NDP economic plan. Ouch.

A bit of history, first.

“The trouble with socialists,” Tommy Douglas once said, and he would know, “is that they let their bleeding hearts go to their bloody heads.”

Douglas, of course, was and is the patron saint of Canada’s New Democrats, and rightly so. He was widely admired. He wasn’t perfect, of course, and no politician ever is. But Tommy Douglas knew something about budgeting.

For example: did you know that, during his 17 years as Saskatchewan premier, Douglas never ran a deficit? It’s true. Not once. And, during all of that time, Douglas would also routinely dedicate 10 per cent of government revenues to paying down the debt. Douglas felt that too much debt — financial holes, in effect — put social programs and government services in peril.

Tommy Douglas isn’t still around to comment on the platform of B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, of course. But if he was, one suspects that he wouldn’t be terribly impressed. Douglas might even be unhappy to hear about the $6.5-billion hole at the centre of the B.C. NDP’s plan for governing.

No exaggeration: $6.5 billion.

The yawning, gaping hole alleged to be at the centre of the B.C. NDP’s platform was detailed this week by the governing B.C. Liberals — who, love ’em or hate ’em, are the architects of five balanced budgets and oversee the strongest economy in Canada. The Dipper Hole is apparently the product of an analysis of more than four fiscal years. In sum, the B.C. Liberal number-crunchers calculated there were 14 serious errors in the NDP’s math — along with a failure to account for interest costs on increased spending levels.

The improperly costed promises relate to freezing a variety of interest rates, promises made to postsecondary students, and the provincial Medical Services Plan.

The $6.5-billion mistake, it should be noted, does not include assumptions the B.C. NDP made about revenue assumptions or another three dozen or so uncosted promises. The Liberals also left out of their analysis the province’s credit rating. But they still came up with that astonishing $6.5-billion figure.

That sort of thing happens a lot in B.C. We’ve all seen this movie before.

So what, one might say. An election is underway in British Columbia, and it’s a tight one. The B.C. Liberals aren’t ever going to say nice things about the B.C. NDP, and vice-versa.

What is noteworthy, then — what suggests the B.C. Liberals are highly confident about the $6.5-billion figure — is threefold. One, it is a simply gargantuan number. It is hard to imagine any sensible political party making such a claim without verifying it, re-verifying it, many times over. Two, the B.C. Liberals have retained two respected economists, Scott Clark and Peter Devries, to do a further review. They wouldn’t have done that if they didn’t have faith in their analysis.

Thirdly, there’s precedent. In focus groups conducted from sea to sea to sea, since time immemorial, voters will always express doubt about the ability of New Democrats to balance budgets and add up columns of figures.

And as political historians will note, that sort of thing happens a lot in B.C. We’ve all seen this movie before.

In 2013, for instance, the B.C. NDP actually investigated itself as it tried to understand why it had lost an election that had seen them as many as 20 points ahead of their main rivals. A big part of the problem, the B.C. NDP concluded in confidential report, was what the party had to say to British Columbians about the economy.

“[NDP] governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba defeat populist right-wing opponents by being — and being seen to be — more competent than our opponent on core fiscal and economic issues, as well as more caring about them,” the report concluded. “That is what we tried to do in 2013 in B.C. We didn’t succeed. Our opponent was out every day on a single issue — jobs and the economy. We were attempting to reassure voters we could be trusted with a mandate by spelling out dozens of proposals. We could see within a few days that this wasn’t working.”

Before that, in 2009, with yet another leader, the B.C. NDP again misfired on the economy, speedily sprinting away from its main economic promise. And, as respected columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote in the Vancouver Sun: “When the party released its platform, the vow to get rid of the carbon tax topped the list of highlights. But the NDP downgraded the “axe the tax” drive after it provoked a backlash from some environmental leaders.”

And so on and so on. The B.C. NDP may have many strengths. But for more than a decade, projecting economic competence has not been one of them. In election after election, the B.C. NDP either get their projections wrong — or they abandon their economic promises, mid-writ. Either way, it does not engender confidence.

Tommy Douglas, among others, would not be impressed. Even a New Democrat, he believed, needs to able to say how he or she will pay the bills.

British Columbian hearts, bleeding or otherwise, would tend to agree.


  1. Miles Lunn says:

    Horgan is probably hoping that like Trudeau, Notley, and Wynne people won’t care, they will be more interested in the big spending. The one problem is Christy Clark is not a complete incompetent fool like Hudak was and in the case of Trudeau and Notley we at least were in or close to a recession so there was an argument a deficit was needed to stimulate the economy whereas with BC’s growth being above average, now is definitely not the time to be running deficits. As for raise taxes more on the wealthy and corporations, the problem is the amount of revenue you can raise there is quite limited and wouldn’t come close to covering the hole not unless raised to ridiculous levels which would make BC uncompetitive. Assuming rich and corporations don’t move elsewhere (which they would) you would have to raise the top rate to 25.2% provincially (combined top rate of 58.2%, ouch!!!) or corporate tax rate to 16% for combined corporate tax rate of 31% or if you did a mix of the two it would be 19.95% for top rate so highest in Western Canada and well above the US, but still a bit below Ontario and Quebec (combined rate of 52.95%) and corporate tax to 13.5% for combined rate of 28.5%. The other option was is probably what they would have to do is raise the PST to 9% which is the most doable but would probably kill their chances in 2021 of re-election, just ask Greg Selinger how well that went over in Manitoba for him. Also they promise to cut liberal waste, but as Rob Ford soon found out there is a lot less waste in government than most think and relying on that won’t cut it. The other alternative is cut salaries of provincial employees or freeze them, but considering the NDP relies heavily on union support, that is not going to happen. When Bob Rae did this with Rae Days, he destroyed what union support he had which is why the party not only lost, but fell to third place.

  2. dave constable says:

    …and from the other side of the aisle, a longer response to this post would be on The Tyee website. Most e mailed includes how BC Libs have added almost $11 billion to our debt the past 4 years. As well, the article on 117 reason to dump the BCLibs is still there in the most e mailed list.
    A person trolling twitter for cherry picking might check out Andrew McLeod’s thread as he commented while watching the debate. Mostly he corrects the premier’s claims – claims in WK’s post above.

  3. Gyor says:

    Remind me again, how large are Justin Trudeau’s deficits again?

    And Christy Clark got her balance budgets by pushing crown corporations like BC hydo into deficits, all she did is shuffle the cards.

  4. Bill Malcolm says:

    And Clark. Has she projected fiscal competence? I think not – she’s ruined BC Hydro by pledging to buy up all the power independent power producers can churn out at prices higher than BC Hydro can generate it themselves, while ruining river bank terrain. And as for Site C, we have a premier who overrules whatever the Utilities Commission decides, because she’s a better engineer and economist than people who are paid to be experts, naturally. Of course she is, she’s a star. Trump is likewise an expert on everything by that reasoning. BC Hydro cannot sell the energy it has now profitably, and Site C will deliver even more of what’s not needed: As bloggers here on Progressive Bloggers have documented in some detail, including Rafe Mair and Richard Douglas. Not that you’ve read them, I expect. Her administration has been likened to be more like the CPC than the longstanding Liiberal norm, but JT is changing that norm in spades, so I suppose that’s all right, then. Bulging deficits and a big smile, that sums up Clark for me.

    My brother, an accountant, has lived in BC in the Okanagan for 40 years, and has decided it’s all too much out there. Coming home to the Maritimes to retire. That’s reality.

    Now if I could regard these attacks on the BC NDP as anything more than straight political guff to support a nominally named Liberal provincial party, I suppose I’d be happy. But they strike me as just straight old smear. And that, sir, is my opinion.

  5. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    After a collective gasp of disbelief, that yearning sound you hear is for Adrian Dix.

    In my book, there goes the ballgame. Unrecoverable.

  6. dave constable says:

    By the by, at The Tyee website, under a report called ‘Fact Check: Does…’ a person can watch the entire debate.

  7. BillBC says:

    “That leering, creepy, condescending remark is a Kim Campbell Week One Level disaster, folks. Horgan — sounding rather like Groper-in-Chief Donald Trump — is going to be hearing about that one for a long, long time.”

    I don’t think many people watched the debate, and I don’t think the remark was Trumpian. For one thing, there’s truth to it: she does trade a lot on her image. Moreover, I believe that most people in BC made up their minds a long time ago, and if there’s any shift in loyalty, it will be from the NDP to the Greens. I’ll be astonished if the Libs don’t win, but I have to admit I’ve been wrong before…

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