Premier Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberals could have written a throne speech to inspire British Columbians with a vision of the future, but instead they kicked off the election campaign with vague promises and wishful thinking.
With three months before voting day and the government down in the polls, the Liberals had a chance to use Tuesday’s throne speech to revive their fortunes with a document that would inspire British Columbians and get them out to vote.
The centrepiece of the speech takes a page from Alberta’s book and uses resource revenue to create what Clark calls a “Prosperity Fund.”
It would use royalties from liquefied-natural-gas projects to create a fund that could see more than $100 billion in revenue over the next 30 years. The money would be used primarily to pay down the $56-billion debt, but will also go toward social programs.
The revenue should start flowing in 2017, when the first of five planned natural-gas projects is expected to be running.
Using this new revenue to pay down debt and fund programs is a good use of the money, but pinning one’s hopes on plants that haven’t been built and money that is decades away is risky. As an election strategy, it’s also too uncertain. Voters need something they can grasp now, not four to 30 years down the road.
Many of those voters will recall that Alberta has had a similar fund for 40 years, and yet Premier Alison Redford is talking about bringing in a sales tax to save her province’s devastated finances after decades of overspending. A savings account is handy, but not if you keep running your chequing account far into the overdraft to lavish gifts on all your friends and relatives.
Once voters read past the news about the Prosperity Fund, the rest of the speech offers thin gruel.
A new organization will try to make Vancouver “the hub for Asian and South Asian corporate offices and investment activity.” Like the natural-gas industry, that’s something that depends on events far outside B.C.’s control.
The government also offers “a renewed commitment” to small business owners, without saying what that means or what difference it will make to small businesses.
It promises new measures to support families, including better access to early-childhood services and childcare, and help for families saving for post-secondary education. Intriguing, but again, no specifics to grab.
In health care, the speech offers “improvements for patients in rural and urban areas as well as improvements to primary health care that will have lasting benefits to people throughout our province.” Health care is always near the top of every British Columbian’s list, so ears are eager for word of something that will make a big difference. If improvements and lasting benefits are on the way, why not tell us what they are? Build up some buzz to carry into the election. But no, we’ll have to wait.
The speech offers no way to measure success. The Prosperity Fund figures are so far in the future, no one now in government will ever be held accountable for them. The other promises include no numbers or benchmarks. How do we know what success looks like?
And more to the point, how do the Liberals expect to achieve success at the polls with a document as thin as this?
In 2001, Gordon Campbell drove the Liberals to victory with his New Era campaign, which gave supporters and voters something to rally behind. The Liberals of 2013 had the golden opportunity of a throne speech to do something similar. They let the opportunity slip and handed the New Democrats the chance to write the agenda.