The New Democrat Opposition did their sworn duty and criticized the new-old budget right through the passage of second reading on Monday.
And they revealed as much about themselves as they did about the budget over the past week.
One of their central charges is that the budget is not balanced.
“The government tabled a budget in February, a budget which was not balanced, which resulted in cuts to important areas of programming that British Columbians depend on not only today but for the future ...” said NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth.
It was presented as a $44-billion budget that will come in just $197 million over the balanced mark. When it was updated after the election, that margin had shrunk to $153 million.
The NDP launched attacks on the balanced claim at the start of the campaign, insisting it wasn’t balanced. That was obviously based on the assumption they would win the election. They didn’t want to be seen as taking the province from the black back into the red. So they denied the black ink right from the start.
But the whole argument is entirely academic. The budget is a plan for a fiscal year that still has almost nine months to run. Nobody will know if it’s balanced or not until the year ends next March 31, and the final accounting is revealed in July 2014.
Arguing over whether it’s balanced is like arguing whether your overdraft next year is still going to be around. You won’t know until you get there.
With all the second-guessing that’s been going on since they lost the election, you have to wonder if they would have been better off to accept that the Liberals plan to balance.
It seemed to go over well with voters. For all the pain caused by all the cutbacks, and all the controversy over each cut, people seemed to appreciate the idea B.C. is at least claiming, or aiming for, a balanced budget.
But the NDP notably never promised to balance the budget. They just said that the future deficits for three years under an NDP government would match “the real Liberal deficits.” And they remained vague about the fourth year.
It was read by some as confirmation of the eternal struggle the party faces when it comes to controlling costs. Liberals capitalized on that.
Similarly, the Opposition has been attacking the job-creation record of the Liberals over the past week.
Farnworth and others cited StatsCan numbers showing thousands fewer jobs.
The province is down since the jobs plan was invented, down 30,000 forestry jobs in the last 12 years and about the same in construction.
“The premier’s job plan is a bust. It’s a bust — nine consecutive quarters of job losses,” said NDP critic Leonard Krog.
But where was all that concern about jobs during the campaign?
The platform made some vague commitments to creating jobs, but had next to nothing in the way of specific ideas to grow anything other than government jobs.
If the NDP are so concerned about job creation now, why did party leader Adrian Dix allow himself to appear solidly against jobs?
NDP veteran Harry Lali made it clear to all in the weeks after they lost the election and he lost his seat that Dix’s surprising stance against the idea to twin the Kinder Morgan pipeline was the main reason.
He said Dix’s Earth Day announcement “put the final nail in the coffin for rural B.C.,” as far as the NDP’s chances were concerned.
“Kinder Morgan did me in. It came across as the NDP against the economy and jobs.”
While they’re going over their failed election plan, they might want to re-think their legislature strategy as well.
Just So You Know: Saturday’s column “How to read a newspaper with style” referred to a similar, earlier piece that I vaguely recalled but was unable to locate.
It turns out I was channelling Garrison Keillor, who wrote a brilliant piece on the topic in 2007 in the New York Times.
Amanda Knowles, a reader in Washington, D.C., of all places, made the connection for me. Thanks to her, and to Keillor.