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Opinion

The BC Budget Speech We Won't Hear

What if Finance Minister de Jong loosened his tie, then his lips?

By Bill Tieleman 19 Feb 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

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Finance Minister Mike de Jong giving this year's second quarter report.

"Honesty: the best of all the lost arts." -- Mark Twain

Perhaps if BC Liberal Finance Minister Mike de Jong were secretly injected with truth serum before presenting today's government's budget speech in the legislature, it would come out like this:

"Honourable Speaker, I rise to deliver not just the budget but also an honest apology -- because our BC Liberal government has truly put British Columbia in a financial mess.

"House rules prohibit the word 'lie,' so I'll just say our government has been 'economical with the truth' on B.C.'s finances.

"Look at then-premier Gordon Campbell's pre-election statement in April 2009: 'I can tell you this -- the deficit for 2009-2010 will be $495 million maximum.'

"It ended up at $1.8 billion, the worst fudge-it budget in B.C. history. Whoops!

"Of course, by Sept. 2009 then-finance minister Colin Hansen expected the deficit would be $2.8 billion! Whoops!

"And it eventually ended up at $1.8 billion, the worst fudge-it budget in B.C. history. Whoops again!

"That's why we panicked and introduced the Harmonized Sales Tax -- a third whoops! -- with more disastrous consequences that made Campbell a 'tax exile' in England!

"So I don't dare say this budget is balanced. Because it is not. And other than with blatant trickery, how could it be?

"Just look at BC Hydro alone.

"Deferral accounts. BC Hydro has 'deferred' debts worth $4.5 billion by next year; an exercise in creative bookkeeping that means this Crown corporation is practically Nortel.

"B.C.'s independent Auditor General John Doyle -- the guy we just turfed -- said in 2011 that B.C.'s annual deficit would be $447 million greater if we properly accounted for Hydro's debts -- so we didn't.

"Independent Power Producers. We owe them almost $59 billion for buying their private power through 30-year contracts at prices up to dozens of times the current price of BC Hydro's dam power or the spot market.

"And we could have done it ourselves through public power projects for a fraction of that cost, but we banned BC Hydro from doing so instead in order to privatize power.

"So we tendered for IPP contracts at $124 per megawatt hour when power readily available on the market was priced at between about $4 and $52. Rates for consumers are going up over 16 per cent in just three years as a result.

"Smart meters. One of our dumbest decisions. We not only alienated BC Hydro consumers who aren't convinced smart meters are safe, but we blew $1 billion on a project that will add about eight per cent to your bills.

"But hey, a lot of BC Liberal insiders and friends got a bunch of profitable work out of smart meters -- and that's why we're in 'power'!

"But BC Hydro is just one of our many financial problems. We're doubling B.C.'s provincial debt from $33.8 billion in 2001 to $66.3 billion by 2015.

"The BC Liberal approach to budgeting is simple. We pay off one credit card debt with another credit card!

"And we are also planning to dump hundreds of millions worth of provincial assets in a desperate going out of business sale just to help balance this year's budget -- a plan that will sell land, buildings and more for a fraction of it's true value -- just to raise enough chump change to claim the budget is balanced.

"But here's the reality. I just can't do this. I won't be the author of British Columbia's financial downfall. I will be voting against my own budget and I urge every MLA to do the same.

"It's time someone told the truth about B.C.'s finances and I just did."

Unlikely speech? More like impossible, but the numbers don't lie.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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