“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”
—Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Oh, my gosh, it’s the silly season in BC. Sure as the giving season arrives every year on the wings of the retreating sun, the silly season arrives in BC every four years ushered in on the wings of another BC election. It’s certainly been that way for the fifty years I have been around the Alice in Wonderland world of BC politics.
I always protest these exercises in public inanity, but—I must admit– they are in a hookah smoking caterpillar kind of way–entertaining.
Remember the 2013 BC Liberal campaign that picked some magical number out of the clouds about Liberally nourished liquefied natural gas creating 100,000 jobs, $1 trillion in economic activity and a $100 billion “Prosperity Fund”? Just like all the other absurd Liberal/Socred campaign promises they dropped the hookah and moved on to the next fantasy as soon as the public mind had been sufficiently smoked to vote the Liberals into another four years of smoke and mirrors.
Oh, my gosh, You’d think these guys spend four years studying Lewis Carroll–the stories they manage to spin into Votes in Wonderland pipe dreams!
Remember British Columbia Resources Investment Corporation (BCRIC)? Their shares were aptly named BRICK shares by the public as their value fell like a brick as soon as the election was won by the Socred/Liberals. It was a lot like Clark’s Prosperity Fund. It offered voters the illusion of wealth—a new era–generated by sharing in the wisdom of BC’s party of big business wisdom. Today the much vaunted BCRIC shares aren’t worth anything which is close to the value of Christy Clark’s Prosperity Fund. But what a grand illusion it was. In 1979 Premier Bill Bennett’s Social Credit (soon to be Liberals)issued every BC citizen 5 free shares in BCRIC—a corporation that in light of developments seems to have been founded to dispose of BC public assets. Bennett’s words wouldn’t have been a dot different if they had come straight out of Christy Clark’s promotion of the LNG Prosperity Fund: “This government, with the most revolutionary proposal that’s been brought to public life in the last 30 years, has brought in an initiative through the B.C. Resources Investment Corporation to involve all our people in individual ownership where they will have a right, say, of collecting dividends and of buying more shares. I think this experience with ownership will encourage them to buy more. Not only are they getting free shares, they’re also being encouraged for the first time, on a ground-floor basis, to invest in their own company rather than send money to buy it from the government.”
Not only did citizens get tricked out of their vote, many got tricked out of their money. Many reasoned that having marketed BCRIC so aggressively, the government was committed to making a success of the shares—they couldn’t fail! I know people who mortgaged their homes to buy into BCRIC as a safe investment—their Premier told them so!—only to lose everything when the share value went to negligible.
I’ll tell you something funny. The Socred/Liberals won the next the next provincial election! How? Well they chose a new, flamboyant Premier—Bill Vanderzalm. Vanderzalm ran one of those impossible to believe campaigns unless you lived through it. Bill Vanderzalm convinced voters to vote for him, for a “fresh start” to clean up the “mess” that his Liberal/Socred party created. Yes, in those words; he was going to clean up the mess. It helped that Vanderzalm promised that under his government beer prices would be kept affordable to “the workingman.”—a big vote getter but sadly just another hollow Socred/Lib empty campaign promise that melted in the face of industry lobbying. Bill had his own messes to make and resigned in disgrace after being recorded in conflict of interest shenanigans.
Then, of course there was the promise not to privatize BC Rail after the Liberals lost the previous election due to their commitment to privatize the railway. Of course, BC Rails was privatized despite the promise by Clark not to privatize it, because when has a Liberal election promise ever meant any commitment to actions after the election?
This time I am not hearing the big dream/the incredible (sic)promise. In fact, there seems to be an disquieting silence coming out of the Clark camp—a silence disturbingly reminiscent of the preHST election where the HST was actively discussed behind triple delete kind of secrecy but kept stealthily hidden from the voters. Notice that while they talk of taxes, they are eerily quiet about hydro rates which will have to skyrocket after the election to pay for their ineptitude at Site C and their exuberant generosity to their buddies in the IPP generating business.
Yes, yes, I know one could say they are running on their record as great financial managers. And if you are looking at the provincial books through the eyes of special friends of the government, one could say they have done a very good job of transferring wealth from the public purse to the private friends of the Clark government. But if you look at BC Hydro management, they certainly are not good managers in the public interest. BC Hydro is saddled with an enormous debt—a big hunk of it to pay for borrowing to “pay a dividend” to the province just before the election in order to make the books look balanced! Very much like the creative financing that got the President of Brazil impeached! Then there is the $672 million in excess of market value which BC Hydro paid Liberal Party funders for private Independent Power Producers generated power. And the sale of BC property to Liberal buddies for a small fraction of its appraised worth. Just like any financial transaction, it can be seen as good or bad depending on whose interest you are taking into account.
In terms of claims to be running a balanced budget, Rafe Mair’s analogy best describes what has been going on with BC Liberal accounting:
This is like you taking your mortgage payments or your bank loan or car loan out of your own personal budget and patting yourself on the back for great fiscal acumen.
The premier, brash as brass, and the finance minister, looking embarrassed, tell everyone that the budget is balanced so all is well with the world. The fact is we are in terrible financial shape and the government is lying through its teeth…Liberals claim to be delivering “balanced” budgets while the province’s financial obligations increased $72 billion in the last six years, more than the provincial debt in the BC’s first 135 years.
The Liberal Party has become so immune to public accountability that it sees no problem in financing a huge wack of its election advertising (mostly just vacuous images of a hard hat sitting precariously on top of a fake smile) with our tax dollars. You and I, we are paying $15 million out of our hard earned tax dollars to finance a very large proportion of the BC Liberal election ads disguised as government propaganda. But, according to Clark, if elected the Liberals will pay down the debt and hold the line on taxes—remember that HST we were talking about earlier? These are the guys who campaigned on the evils of gambling only to open BCLC online gambling further opening the flood gates to gaming once in office. And then there is the fiasco that is the BC Liberal relation to all levels of education in our province—but let’s leave that to another post!