When it comes to local public project spending, there’s not a lot of good news these days. We seem doomed to cost overruns whether we’re replacing an antiquated sewer system or a rusting bridge spanning a modest harbour waterway, or re-designing and building a new intersection on Vancouver Island’s lone north-south highway.
It has become a depressing fact of life that original estimates will often close to double when the final tallies are made public. The most recent announcement that the new intersection on the Island Highway on the outskirts of Victoria will cost at least $10 million more than initially estimated was received with mumbled grumbles, tempered by relief that the provincial and federal governments will be sharing the cost.
Native Vancouver Islanders, especially South Island dwellers with mild winters, early daffodils and cherry blossoms the envy of Japan, appear to believe that Canadians who don’t live in the southern island banana belt are generous people who will happily send them financial tax relief when projects rocket into the red.
They seem to have difficulty believing my old, oft-quoted, friend Pogo who said he had seen the enemy, “and it is us.” “Us” are the various publicly-funded governments who pay the original “estimated cost” plus the “unanticipated” $10 million more in overruns.
Canada’s governments – municipal, regional, provincial and federal – have only one source of income … we, the people. Whether we own big companies employing a thousand workers or run a one-person cottage operation, we make payments to those we elected to guard, protect, collect and distribute our taxes, our collective earnings.
Governments, minor and major, seem to forget that in the months and weeks leading to an election we think about the taxes we pay, and we decide whether to trust our government leaders with another mandate and unrestricted access to the vault.
We have one of those decision days coming in October when we could give the Liberal Party another four years of control of the vault, or give the keys back to the Conservatives we fired a few years back.
We could indeed take wild leaps into the unknown with the Greens or the NDP in charge of spending while, hopefully, the economy continues to expand. But, only a long-shot, reckless gambler would consider taking that chance.
What can we anticipate between now and election day?
The Liberals: Still in control of spending, they will be doing a lot of just that … spending. Every time they announce that the government will generously support a long-awaited project, we need to remember that the money comes from … we, the people.
The Conservatives: They will be making many project promises across the country. Remember that each promise must be accompanied by “if elected” because they don’t yet have a key to the vault. And, from experience, we know that campaign spending rhetoric without our cash is rarely binding post-election.
The NDP: We have to wait and see what emerges as a clear-cut platform. At present, we have a horse with a jockey that isn’t sure which way he’s supposed to run on the track.
The Green Party: It will be interesting to hear a clear-cut industrial climate change policy that would not create massive plant closures and job losses; and, what projects they would create to replace the lost businesses, jobs and tax contributions their present plans appear to eliminate.
It’s going to be a long hot, promise-filled summer. Relax. Listen. Consider the realities. And Pray.