Opinion: While government blames pandemic for the budget delay, the real cause was the NDP calling an election

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VICTORIA — The New Democrats are asking the legislature to approve a $13 billion blank cheque, drawn against a budget that they won’t make public for another month.

The request is a major departure from the usual practice in the B.C. house since budget legislation and accountability were tightened two decades ago.

Usually, the government introduces a budget and spending program in February, well before the April 1 start of the financial year.

It then seeks approval to spend a quarter of the money in advance, while MLAs spend several months scrutinizing spending estimates (budgets) for individual ministries.

But this year, New Democrats delayed the budget until April 20, while bringing in a $13 billion supply bill (as in supply of money) with next to no detail about how it will be spent.

They have brazenly insisted that what is happening this year is really no different from what happens every year. Besides, they say, the budget will “only” be 20 days late.


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When pressed to account for the delay, Finance Minister Selina Robinson says again and again, “we are in a pandemic.”

Pushing back, the B.C. Liberals have pointed out how the budget law now being trampled was enacted in response to NDP budgetary shenanigans in the 1990s.

Some members of the current government — Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and the chief of staff to the premier, Geoff Meggs — were NDP staffers in the 1990s.

“Hey the band’s back together again,” as BC Liberal MLA Mike de Jong put it. “The budgetary Blues Brothers are back on the road and they’re playing the same playlist.”

The New Democrats fired back that the Liberals can scarcely claim to have clean hands on fiscal matters — witness their own shenanigans with ICBC.

The most apt comments on the supply bill controversy came from Green MLA Adam Olsen.

Not for him the “oh yeah?” “yeah!” predilections of the two main parties.  “I can’t wait until we talk about the 80s and the 70s,” Olsen joked at one point.

Instead he went after the basics of the NDP defence of the supply bill and the budget delay.

“What’s happening in this Supply Act doesn’t happen every year, what’s happening is unique,” said Olsen.

“Essentially,  this is an advance on a budget that we have not seen. This house today is being asked for $13-plus billion, which is a lot of money. … They’re asking for our support without the information that governments normally (provide).”

He noted that in order to base a supply bill on a budget that has yet to be tabled, the New Democrats had to insert an exemption from another key piece of legislation, the Financial Administration Act.


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“Maybe the people of B.C. should think about that, when their government can stand up, member after member after member, to say, ‘Don’t worry, nothing to see here, we’re doing what we have always done,’” said Olsen.

“Except in the very language of the Supply Act they’re saying, ‘No, we’re not doing what we have always done, we’re doing something different.’”

Having demolished the notion of business as usual, Olsen proceeded to tackle the argument that the delay was all because of the pandemic.

He pointed out how a year ago this month, all parties in the legislature joined in unanimously approving a $1.5 billion pandemic economic recovery fund.

“We came together,” recalled the Green MLA. “There was very little definition between this side of the house and that side of the house.”

He then moved on to discuss how the New Democrats exploited that nonpartisan gesture, sitting on the money all summer, then turning it into the first plank of their re-election platform.

“It was approved by all parties in the house,” said Olsen. “Then on the eve of the election, $1.5 billion in programs were put in front of British Columbians as if it were magic.”

Premier John Horgan’s decision to call the snap election put the entire government into caretaker mode, with consequences that are still playing out today.

“Despite what many people in this house would like the public to believe,” said Olsen, “the election has had widespread disruptive impacts.”


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The legislature’s all party finance committee spent several weeks in late spring 2020 in earlier-than-usual consultations on what should go into the 2021-22 budget.

“Before the snap election was called,” said Olsen, “this government was more ready for budget 2021-22 than they were previously because that process was sped up.”

Instead, the five-week campaign coupled with another five weeks certifying the results and appointing a new cabinet meant delays on every front.

“Let’s just be honest,” said the Green MLA. “The delay is because of an election. It is because of the timing of the election and that decision was made by the premier.”

Against that backdrop, should the house give the government authority to spend $13 billion without details and without debate? Olsen asked rhetorically.

“That doesn’t sound like the democracy that we have set up here,” he said. “That doesn’t sound like how this place is supposed to work.”

But all too often, that is precisely how things do work with majority governments.

As the week unfolds,  the New Democrats will surely vote themselves the $13 billion blank cheque while pretending it has nothing to do with the delay they themselves precipitated by the snap election call.



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