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On BC Liberal Fiscal Management

July 13, 2010 Comments off

After overstating public revenues by $2.6 billion, and a deficit of $1.8 billion, around 4 times higher than the promised $495 million, for the 2009/10 fiscal year, can we now admit that the only thing that the BC Liberals can fiscally manage is a fudge stand?

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BC Liberal Cabinet Minister Quits BC Liberal Caucus Over HST

June 11, 2010 Comments off

Interesting. Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources for the BC Liberal Government, has resigned from both the BC Liberal Caucus and Cabinet over opposition to the HST.

Even more interesting: any debate that the HST was something that has planned by the BC Liberals before the May 2009 Election can be put to rest. According to Lekstrom:

“[A]s a member of Caucus and Cabinet, I can confirm that the HST was not contemplated before the May 2009 election.”

So, what is going to happen now? Watch for the BC Liberals to start painting Lekstrom as a maverick, opponents of the BC Liberals to start saying that this is proof that the BC Liberals are collapsing, and anti-HST local Peace River South Lekstrom opponents to point out that Lekstrom did actually vote in favour of the HST.

Could Alberta Report Inspire BC Liberals To Scrap Elected School Boards?

June 8, 2010 Comments off

There has been plenty of speculation lately that the BC Liberals want to make changes to the governance of education in BC, speculation based on vague platitudes from the throne speech and the report of the comptroller general in regards to the Vancouver board’s fiscal situation, which came down hard on the elected officials for not acting like an executive broad of a crown corporation.

The question is: how would the BC Liberals change education governance? One approach can come from the School Centred Leadership/Shared Business Systems document that the Ministry of Education produced in 2006, in which the government would amalgamate most infrastructure and staff to larger bodies than the current Boards of Education, while covering up this amalgamation by giving more ‘autonomy’ to schools (read: giving money to schools on a per-pupil basis, while forming school-based “School Planning Councils”).

But a recent report released by the Alberta Government, Inspiring Education, provides a different approach.

Inspiring Education suggests that Alberta School Boards transfer their governance from elected boards to Governance Teams, which would be composed of representatives from a number of local stakeholder groups: parents, educators, municipalities, cultural groups, First Nations, business, non-profits, and so on. Most of these representatives would be appointed.

The theory behind this Governance Team structure is that it would make school boards more responsive to student and local demands. Two examples the report suggests on how this would happen: 1) a board with a growing number of immigrants could appoint more immigrants to a Governance Team in order to get relevant input; 2) a board with a large student demand for vocational training in tourism could appoint a person who owns a tourism business to work on ways to provide the training.

However, I don’t think that this is what would happen in practice. I believe that appointing people to Boards of Education would result in: 1) mostly those with connections to the government being appointed; and 2) a system in which Boards of Education would only be accountable to those who appointed them, not local citizens. That is, after all, what happened when the BC Liberals scrapped elected health boards for appointed ones. Furthermore, I would suggest that Boards of Education could be made responsive to student and local demands using committees rather than replacing the entire elected board with a Governance Team.

But if the BC Liberals did actually want to get rid of elected Boards of Education and replace them with appointees, the Albertan Inspiring Education report could certainly be an inspiration for both a structure and spin in which to do so.

BC Budget 2010: BC New Democrats Bloggers Scrum

March 3, 2010 1 comment

The BC New Democrats held an blogger-exclusive scrum with budget critic Bruce Ralston in regards to the BC 2010 budget, therefore continuing an event established for the BC 2009 budget update. This scrum was bigger than last time, involving blogs such as Northern Insights, TheLeftCoast.ca, Politics, Re-Spun, and B.C. Policy Perspectives.

Ralston opened by stating that what he found was the most striking thing about this budget was the BC Liberal attempt to try to re-brand the HST as a measure that would be used to exclusively fund health care. He predicted that this re-branding would fail and only serve to further galvanize opposition to the HST in BC.

After that short statement, the bloggers were allowed to ask questions.

In particular, I was interested in the BC New Democrats’ opinion on the rather particular property tax deferral program for parents with children under 18. Ralston didn’t think much of the program. It would not result in new funding or jobs that could help these families, only provide a line of credit at no cost to the government. Furthermore, Ralston thought it was rather ironic that the BC Liberals were introducing measures to reduce the tax burdens of large banks while enabling families to accumulate more debt.

In regards to the questions asked by other bloggers: I’m sure that they will be posting more details on their respective blogs, so I’ll just go over some of the highlights.

There was a lot of discussion about the HST, and how it would be a tax shift that would take the burden off of business and onto the middle class. Also mentioned was the fact that the BC Liberal Government choose to only receive $250 million of the $1.6 billion federal inducement for adopting the HST instead of receiving the originally agreed to $750 million for this year. Ralston agreed that it was rather particular that the BC Liberals choose to defer $500 million instead of using it to avoid borrowing $500 million and therefore having to pay interest on it.

Another question asked was: were the BC New Democrats still committed to better, independent reporting of government budget reporting? Ralston reaffirmed this commitment, and discussed how there was further work to be done in making the government budget process less archaic, less politicized, and developing more ways to allow better comparisons of numbers between the various budget documents.

Close to the end, somebody asked one of the big questions: if the BC New Democrats were in government, would the deficit be bigger? Ralston admitted that yes it would be, as the BC New Democrats made a commitment during the 2009 election to have a bigger stimulus package focused on green infrastructure and work to preserve services that would be harmed by short-term, short-sighted panicked cuts.

BC Budget 2010: Just Stumbling Around

March 2, 2010 2 comments

The 2010 BC Budget has been released today, and if anybody was expecting a post-Olympic economic vision from the BC Liberals, they’d be disappointed.

The 2010 Budget basically continues the path set by the 2009 Budget Update in September 2009: aiming to have a surplus budget by 2013/2014, continuing the reformation of the tax system from a progressive system to a middle-class harming regressive system, and finding more government services to cut.

Spending Cuts

Probably the big news story of this budget is the cuts to most government ministries with the exceptions of Health and Education, and the reduction of staff to BC’s already lean Civil Service. The Civil Service is set to have 4,142 fewer people working for it by 2013, which is a reduction of 13% of the civil service by 2008 staffing levels. The government hopes to achieve most of these reductions by not replacing those that leave the Civil Service, but some layoffs are expected. The budget of the Ministry of Forest is also to be reduced by 35%, on top of previous cuts.

One really has to wonder if these cuts are an example of the BC Liberal government being penny-wise and dollar-foolish, saving money today but reducing economic opportunities for the citizens of BC in the long term.

An Olympic Legacy?

One of the good news stories of the budget, according to the BC Liberals, is the creation of a $60 million “2010 Sports and Arts Legacy” fund, designed to help fund arts and sports programs. Of course, what isn’t mentioned is that last year’s budget made a huge cut to discretionary grant money that helped fund, you guessed it, arts and sports programs.

A Little Boost in Education Spending

Education spending has been boosted a tiny amount in this budget. However, over the last couple of years, the BC Liberal government has downloaded greater responsibilities and costs to Boards of Education. Therefore, the question is, will this boost be able to both pay for increased costs and inflation?

Property Tax Deferral For Parents With Children Under 18

By far the weirdest announcement of the budget, the BC Liberal government is allowing parents of children under 18 who have 15% equity of their homes to defer their property taxes for the 2010 tax year, supposedly for the purpose of helping working families. Of course, those who opt to defer will have to pay the tax back plus prime rate interest for the 2011 tax year.

I fail to see how this is going help people with families. First of all, this problem isn’t going to help those families that rent, not own, their houses. Secondly, this is a good way to encourage BC Families to have a higher debt load, which is ironically counter to the “live within our needs rhetoric” we keep hearing from this government. Finally, I’d suspect that increasing resources to such things as combating child poverty and housing would have been way more useful in helping working families┬áthan this program.

Conclusion

If anybody is looking for any indication that the BC Liberals have basically run out of ideas in regards to the governing of this province, this budget would be it. This budget seems to stumble to-and-fro. It makes penny-wise, dollar-foolish cuts to the civil service that will hurt the quality of BC Government services in the long run. It makes a big deal of a few spending increases that really make up from downloaded costs or previously cut programs. Finally, it contains just plain weird programs that seem to be based more on a ideological, warped view of market economics and less on actually helping families that have been hurt from the economic downturn.

[Not] Protecting Education: The Cutbacks of School District #57

January 20, 2010 2 comments

During the 2009 British Columbia Election campaign, the BC Liberals repeatedly said that despite the hard economic times, they would protect education while in Government.

After getting out of yesterday’s School District #57 (Prince George) special meeting, there is only one thing I can say:

The BC Liberals lied.

At the special meeting, School District #57 administrators presented a “District Sustainably Committee” report, which recommended that the district:

  1. Close down 12 of 47 schools and re-purpose 2 schools to teach different groups of students. To top it off, some of these schools slated to close down are rural elementary schools; therefore elementary students will have to be bused into Prince George;
  2. Increase class sizes;
  3. “Cut district infrastructure” (a.k.a., for the most part, laying off staff).

None of these steps are very conducive to protecting education; however all this is to save $7 million in order to be able to deliver a balanced budget in the 2010-11 school year.

Why does the school district all of a sudden have to save $7 million? Because the BC Liberal government choose to pile more obligations to school boards, such as all-day kindergarten, carbon reduction requirements, and higher MSP Premiums without giving school boards the extra money to pay for them. Because the BC Liberal government choose to take away the Annual Facility Grant used to maintain school buildings. Well, I suppose at least the BC Liberals choose to give school boards a rebate on the HST.

Remember too that this is coming from a school board that had to shut down 14 schools in 2002, during the early Campbell BC Liberal government. Oh, and to make things even worse, the report suggests that School District #57 will have to cut a further $4 million in the future.

So what does this have to do with somebody that is not living in School District #57? Simple. A lot of other BC school boards are facing the same fiscal pressures as School District #57, and might have to take similar action. Heck, it’s already happening in Vancouver.

Of course, the BC Liberals still have time to protect education. They still have time to amend this year’s budget take responsibility for the extra costs that they have added to school boards. They still have time to prove that they didn’t lie during the election.

Well, What Do You Know? BC Boards of Education To Get HST Rebate

January 15, 2010 1 comment

It seems that the BC Liberals have finally decided to give Board of Educations, Post-Secondary Institutions and Hospitals a HST rebate so that these organizations are not spending more money on taxes and less money on their purposes.

One really has to ask the question: why wasn’t the HST designed and announced with these rebates in the first place? There is simply no excuse for this oversight. After all, the BC Liberals have been down this road before; they neglected to give rebates to boards of education and municipalities when the carbon tax was implemented, and then later organized a rebate for the tax.

Of course, there is a cynical answer: the announcement for the HST tax rebate was held back until now, just before the affected organizations will be announcing service cutbacks because of reductions to funding, to try to soften the blow for the BC Liberal government.