Two rules in politics are simple to follow:
1) Do not overpromise and underdeliver.
2) Do not preach what you do not practice.
Political problems arise from hypocrisy and sleight-of-hand, and deep political problems arise when you’re caught and won’t recant. And no matter the make-up, there will be a blemish.
John Horgan, in his first few weeks as premier of a majority government, has banished the rulebook to some distant desk drawer. How else to explain what we have seen in recent days?
First, on the over-under issue, his election campaign promise to give $500 to everyone earning less than $62,250 a year was an overpromise. More precisely, it gives the money to those who earned less than $62,250 in 2019. The pretense of the assistance, the seeming criteria for eligibility – that you’ve lost big chunks of income this year in the pandemic and can use some Christmas cash – turns out not to matter.
You could have made $62,499 last year and, say, $162,499 this year, and the $500 is yours. You could have made up to $87,000 last year and, say, $8,700 this year, and not even part of the $500 on a sliding scale would be yours.
Now, the cynical among us would note that campaign promises are made to be broken. Horgan, after all, committed $400 to renters in 2017 and the cheques have yet to be in the mail. But that was a pledge without a pandemic coursing through our economy; this coronavirus commitment was needed by those who may not get it.
The provincial excuse on this is that there is no way to know what you’re earning in 2020, whereas it is easy to see what you earned in 2019 through your tax return or payroll statement. The easy rejoinder is the Russian proverb, “Doveryai, no proveryai,” best known to the older among us as the Ronald Reagan-employed negotiating tactic with the old Soviet Union: “Trust, but verify.” In other words: give the money now, require proof of income at tax time in the spring.
Second on the over-under issue: Horgan claimed that those eligible for the B.C. Recovery Benefit could get the funds by Christmas. The legislature was brought back with the explicit purpose of passing the legislation to make it so.
But it won’t be so. The new finance minister, Selina Robinson, assured the legislature last week that government computers were used to “many” people applying at once for something. The example she used was the glut in applications last summer for provincial park camping permits.
Well, there are a lot of unhappy campers today among the 3.7 million possibly eligible for the recovery benefit, because the servers have failed to service. Worst, the very verification that the government didn’t seem to want to bother with is something it is bothering with, asking for all sorts of documentation with enough seeming randomness to raise anxiety and ire.
Now, it is true that people will get the cheques by Christmas. It’s just not clear which Christmas.
Third, the New Democrats made much of the miserly ways of their Liberal predecessors on benefits for people with disabilities. They increased support in their minority government and introduced an additional benefit when the pandemic hit. But in recent weeks they announced that the new benefit of $300 monthly would be cut in half in January, then phased out by April. This isn’t big money to anyone other than the recipients. The government’s justification: hey, look at those $500 cheques, coming any time now. The moral here: if you’re going to claim the moral high ground, live there, don’t just visit there.
Which brings us to the fourth shining example of the early-day wobbles, the premier’s near redefinition of the Christmas turkey.
Horgan suggested last week he and his wife would be happily dining with his son and daughter-in-law on Christmas Day. He said he asked his health minister if this was OK. This likely struck most British Columbians divining the ambiguity of the rules on social gatherings as a generous read.
If you live in a bubble and someone else lives in theirs, you can’t just combine bubbles. This was something we learned as children in the bathtub. In-laws often come in handy, and his son’s spouse appears to have jogged Horgan into understanding his government appears to ban what he appeared to boast.
It took what was likely an interesting evening at the Horgan residence for the premier the next day to announce that there would be extra leftovers at his house because dinner would be for two, not four.
On the basis of these moves he’ll want first dibs on the wishbone for better days.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.