BC NDP’s budget suffers from an innovative growth strategy deficit

Journalism sometimes fails to deal properly or proportionately with differing perspectives. The most extreme example these days is how some media continue to include a denier in a climate change story. This false-balance trait of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand reportage creates what is called The View From Nowhere.

Still, the BC NDP government’s mixed-bag third budget is deserving of precisely that. It is on one hand reassuring and stable and on the other hand troubling and rickety.

On the one hand, there are heartening economic signs that B.C. remains at the forefront of the Canadian economy.

Predictions of 2.4% and 2.3% growth in 2019 and 2020 are hardly the stuff of street celebrations, but given the national context, neither are they distressing – so yes, on the one hand …

On the other hand, the province appears content to effortlessly spend without much effort to save. Its operational expenses in its first mandate are projected to grow 22.7%, or more than $10 billion, and its $20.1 billion in planned capital spending over the next three years is 25% larger than even last year it said it would be.

Revenue estimates suggest a much more modest path is needed in years ahead to align with what the province will take in. Which also suggests worryingly there will need to be a review of available sources of government income, maybe even more new taxes, in part because there is an important factor it has not yet costed: a program to make affordable child care a reality for British Columbians, something it will now find difficult to launch before the next election.

We have long needed this program. As an emancipator and an engine of economic growth, it deserved to be at the top and not in the pursuing pack of priorities. Executed properly, it ought to generate impressive income and corporate tax revenue when more women have greater agency over work-life choices and safety for the care of our children. But it will require a hefty early investment or it will be largely symbolic and ineffective. No wonder the government is taking its time before articulating the details; child care at federal and provincial levels has been shelved before, and any economic storm would make it easier to sideline it again.

And yes, swirling storms are in the forecast. On the one hand, the government is heralding the possibility of any number of them: global economic slumbers, the shambles of Brexit, commodity crashes, consumer indebtedness and housing market slumps. On the other hand, the budget does not provide any clues on how it will put the brakes on any of its ambitious plans if any of these storms hit land.

Theirs is a typical dilemma for any new government that wishes to change the course of who it helps and who it doesn’t, and on the one hand, there is evident capital investment in housing and hospitals and the widened child benefit coming in 2020 to assist those in need.

On the other hand, we are well behind on two other social requirements: an anti-poverty plan and the need for a definitive strategy for our aging population, a monumental task no one seems eager to discuss. Make no mistake, both are big-ticket challenges, as is the balance of needs still to be identified in the CleanBC climate change plan.

And this is where we get to a View From Somewhere, in that the NDP recipe for economic stewardship lacks one essential ingredient: an innovative strategy to stimulate growth. The government is more adept at looking after needs than looking to engender a province to yield fewer of them, more focused on furnishing benefits than on furnishing an environment to reduce the need for them. Its virtue signalling often carries a divisive tone of class hostility, particularly its protracted and unsupported claim that its predecessors focused only on dividends for a choice few rather than us all.

On the one hand, last week’s budget will mean many British Columbians will find themselves better taken care of in a couple of years. On the other hand, the government will do little to help the economy, and not the taxpayer, provide this care.

Kirk LaPointe is the editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.