We can expect a “big one”, guaranteed, in February, 2017. Not the tectonic plate shifting kind we west coast citizens have been expecting and (hopefully) have prepared for for years, but the final budget from Christy Clark’s Liberal government before we go to the polls in May next year.
I was reminded of the event a few days ago when provincial Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled government plans for spending – or lack of it – in the year between now and the general election shake rattle and lift-off next. His 2016 effort was modest, with a few gentle benefits, a bit of a tax hit for folks who can afford to pay a little more for health care services (with a long needed reminder that health care in British Columbia is not “free” and never has been), a promise to try and put the lid on residential property prices in Vancouver and a few other bits and piece leading to a bottom line showing a surplus come fiscal year end.
Taken all round a decent job considering the challenging economy problems facing the world. For the next week or two we can expect noisy challenges from the NDP, but, barring an unforeseen scandal of cataclysmic proportions (always a possibility in wild west politics) the government should be able to amble into summer and year end in comfortable position: and next February be ready to present a traditional “take it or leave it” budget for the people to vote on about three months later.
As things stand the Legislature should terminate its 2016 activities on November 24 to end a year of sporadic debate sessions interspersed with lengthy breaks during which MLAs can attend to constituency business or take a family holiday.
In 2017 the MLAs will re-convene, probably in early February, to prorogue, listen to another Throne Speech and a few days later get a look at a budget jammed with people benefits and promises of even great things to come IF on May 9 the people renew the Liberal mandate for another four years.
I’m making note of it now because the whispers are already stirring that the NDP really did learn a lesson back in 2013 when most pollsters and easily led media outlets had the party elected before the first vote was cast. NDP campaigners have admitted strategy mistakes were made in 2013. They must be careful not to repeat the biggest cause for failure and be disciplined to firmly resist the temptation to believe their own propaganda.
It will not be easy for them. The government holds the inside planning tools, controls the money and a majority vote strong enough to bring to fruition any or all of a basketful of benefits – ready for delivery if it is re-elected.
Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition tends to concentrates on “opposition” as the operative word in its title. It would fare better if it regarded itself as the government in waiting – a political party ready and able to govern. Positive rather than petulant.
That means more positive thinking and less “opposition” to everything government proposes and displayed desire to improve programs and policies not wreck them. It means the NDP should be developing a priority plan designed to build – or should that be re-build? – public confidence in government and convince the electorate New Democrats have the ability to run a fiscally responsible and stable administration.
Its record has not been impressive. In 1991 Mike Harcourt’s NDP offered stability as the once all powerful Social Credit Party fell apart during the Premiership of Bill Vander Zalm. But four years and 109 days later Harcourt resigned in the wake of scandal and party dissent to be replaced by Glen Clark — who retained power for the party in 1996 but resigned three years and 184 days later – again in the wake of scandal and internal dissent.
Dan Miller took over as premier and held office for 183 days of relative stability and calm until Ujjal Dosanjh was elected party leader and Premier. One year and 101 days later in May, 2006, Dosanjh and his party were defeated by the Liberals.
Come May 9, 2017, a predominant feature of the NDP campaign will undoubtedly be “after 11 –years with Liberals in charge, it’s time for a change” – and maybe it will be IF the 2017 Liberal budget basket is empty of goodwill and people benefits. But if it is loaded, as eve of election budgets traditionally are in BC, New Democrats will need more than brittle complaints to win the right to govern.
In addition to their own carefully packaged basket of electoral comforts New Democrats will need to offer a Linus blanket – one that promises the warmth and comfort of understanding and stability in troubled times and shuns rhetoric for reason.