Well, a sitting government in British Columbia has done it again; they’ve introduced a balanced budget for 2017-18 and, with a suitable flourish of trumpets, announced a year end surplus in excess of $2 billion.
The new budget presented plans to spend the surplus and a wide series of scheduled increases to existing programs, funding for new programs, relief all round for beleaguered taxpayers and the promise of more to come.
Opposition and media reaction were instant, on cue; the government is bribing the electorate with its own money. No doubt about that. It is also following a time honoured process first laid down with exemplary skill by W.A.C. Bennett who served 20 years as Premier of BC, winning re-election every three or four years with a never varying election formula.
Back in those days provincial governments were elected for a maximum of five years with the date for a new mandate resting solely with the premier and the ruling party. The Bennett formula was simple: In your first year of a new term introduce all the unpleasant things you need to do to keep the province rolling along in relative comfort. Year one is the time to increase taxes, cut programs, reduce government grants and generally warn citizens that savings must be made and kept “for a rainy day.”
In year two the pressure on taxpayers would be eased, but only slightly. And then, if year three had been planned as the year to call for a new mandate the doors to the provincial Treasury would be opened. The people would be praised for the patient way they paid their taxes and endured myriad fees and they’d be rewarded with a new highway, a bridge here or there, a new school or hospital.
The Opposition would furiously denounce the money suddenly being “shoveled from the back of government trucks” as election bribes. None was condemned as much as the Home Owner Grant of $50 introduced by W.A.C. in the 1950s. It was condemned by the NDP as the most flagrant bribe ever offered taxpayers – and is still on the books as “a benefit” although the government reckons it costs the Treasury $825 million a year in lost revenue.
In 1972, the NDP finally defeated, W.A.C., abandoned his tried and true election formula and in their first two years in office spent and spent some more. MLAs got pay increases, so did public service workers. When Premier Dave Barrett called for a vote of confidence in 1975 there was no money left to make voters happy.
W.A.C.’s son Bill Bennett took over as Premier and declared the Treasury empty of cash but full of promissory notes. Spending was curbed, savings made, election year spending restored. He remained in office for 11 years winning three general elections.
And so it has gone in BC since and continues unabated as we head for a May 9 ballot with voters dazzled by seemingly never ending promises of even better things to come if only taxpayers stay the course and ask for more of the same until at least 2021.
The Opposition has it tough, tougher than usual, with a litany of complaints but, so far, no clearly outlined plans for a more prosperous future. It says “it’s time for a change,” but doesn’t say what the change should be.
Premier Christy Clark and her minions have made their offer to the electorate with a promise of even more relief if re-elected. It’s the tried and true formula, not new, not surprising. And, BC history shows, a call by the ruling party to “endorse us to continue these rewards” is usually a successful campaign enticement.
To lead the NDP to victory in May, John Horgan must stop complaining about anything and everything the government does. He needs to invent a better mousetrap, one that entices with a variety of goodies but doesn’t break the taxpayers’ back when the bait is nibbled. In other words, he needs a variation on the old theme always remembering taxpayers like to be stroked, and when they are they tend to purr on cue.