Les Leyne: Conservatives' message muddled by flood of facts

Somewhere in the B.C. Conservative Party, there’s a statistics geek with a taste for macroeconomic bafflegab who’s managed to hijack their election platform.
Leader John Cummins unveiled part of it last week, more on Monday. There are a few eye-catching ideas, but much of it is a dense slog through boring numbers about which it is hard to care.
“By last year ... labor income had collapsed to just 50.5 per cent of nominal GDP. That translates into a decline of 6.1 per cent of nominal gross domestic product in labor income over the last two decades.
“Why is that important?”
Because, says the document,  that “precipitous” drop has led to “plunging” retail sales, from 30.5 per cent of nominal GDP to just 27.3 per cent.
Apart from over-dramatizing a pretty minor change in a very boring statistic, if you subject this kind of stuff to the “make me care” test, it fails badly.
One of the main themes the Conservatives are worried about is the interprovincial migration trend. There’s been more nonsense espoused about that in the last 20 years than any other population statistic.
B.C. Liberals in Opposition used to paint vivid pictures of refugees fleeing the NDP to live elsewhere during the 1990s. And the NDP has enjoyed pointing out lately that more Canadians are leaving B.C. than moving here.
But there are hundreds of different reasons. People ebb and people flow, and they most of them do so voluntarily. Politicizing that number is absurd.
As far as foreign immigrants are concerned, the Conservatives have a few different views. The party welcomes immigrants and says they represent most of the growth B.C. needs. But Conservatives don’t like the fact most new immigrants settle in metro Vancouver. It wants to encourage them all to move to northern and rural regions. They are alarmed about the big increase in foreign worker permits and tie that to inadequate skills training and apprenticeship programs for young people already here.
Valid concerns, but the party is a lot more interested in outlining big picture problems than it is in painting detailed solutions.
There’s even a section in the platform on B.C.’s history as a have and have-not province. That’s based on an analysis of the equalization funding, which is the single most incomprehensible program in the entire country.
If I saw Cummins headed down my driveway to knock on the door and talk about the equalization program, I’d head for the panic room.
The document gets interesting when it gets specific.
Monday they pitched a tax credit for toll bridge and ferry users. Send all your receipts in to a new Conservative government. If you have enough of them, you could get $400 back. (If you don’t have enough, start collecting from neighbours.)
It may not be workable, but it’s undeniably grabby.
B.C. Conservatives would also repeal the carbon tax because its unfair to northerners.
It’s pitched as a simple tax cut. But repealing the tax would presumably also mean repealing the off-setting tax cuts that make it revenue neutral, including the grant for northerners.
Cummins also has some interesting ideas on fiscal and parliamentary reform. He stands for more detailed scrutiny in the legislature of government spending. He is also advocating for the creation of a legislative budget office. It would provide MLAs with independent analysis and help them with complex financial and economic data.
Cummins also wants to revamp the  fall sitting of the legislature to refocus it on spending, period.
That process would include calling in deputy ministers, Crown corporation CEOs and others for “detailed line-by-line” questions about their spending in the past year and their plans for the upcoming one.
The party has drawn up a schedule that would see three new legislative committees sitting regularly to scrutinize spending.
All of that with the goal of balancing budgets, regardless of whether it’s the law or not.
Conservatives point out there have been three balanced budget laws by three parties in the last 22 years. But by their count, there have been 17 deficit budgets and only five surplus ones over that span.
They’re going to dole out ideas from now until voting day on May 14. The less dwelling on tedious historic trend lines and the more concrete and specific they are, the better.

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