Opinion

BC NDP’s So-Called ‘Dismal Decade’ Never Was

In many ways the party outperformed Socreds and BC Libs, as BC’s Business Council knows.

By Bill Tieleman 25 Jul 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Email him at weststar@telus.net see Twitter @BillTieleman or visit his blog.

“Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say, ‘on the one hand... on the other.’” — U.S. President Harry Truman, 1945-53

Now that BC NDP Premier John Horgan has taken office, expect to hear a lot from the surly BC Liberal opposition about how horrible the 1990s economy was when the New Democrats were last in power.

Horgan and the NDP will bring back the so-called “dismal decade” or “decade of decline,” as ex-BC Liberal Energy Minister Bill Bennett has claimed.

But don’t believe the hype — because the BC Business Council didn’t.

Rather than accept the BC Liberal perpetual propaganda line, the Council representing the province’s largest companies did the research, comparing B.C.’s economy in the 1980s when the Social Credit Party ruled; the 1990s under the BC NDP; and the 2000s with the BC Liberals in power.

And their study from 2012 found that far from a “dismal decade,” the economy under the BC NDP did significantly better than their right-wing opponents on several important measures.

When added to the BC Liberals’ recent massive increase in the province’s debt despite campaigning in the 2013 election for a “debt free BC,” it makes now ex-premier Christy Clark and her crew less than credible critics.

On the most important measure of any economy — real Gross Domestic Product growth — the Business Council report found that the BC NDP in the 1990s led the way with annual 2.72 per cent increases, significantly better than the BC Liberals at 2.36 per cent in the 2000s or Social Credit’s 2.12 per cent in the 1980s.

Yes, that’s right: the social democratic NDP under then premiers Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark presided over a faster growing economy than the BC Liberals under premier Gordon Campbell and deputy premier Christy Clark.

And the NDP decade in office also saw the largest average annual employment growth, with increases of 2.17 per cent, followed by the 1.91 per cent in the 1980s under the Socreds and last, the BC Liberals at 1.58 per cent in the 2000s.

Which government saw the most growth in export sales? The BC NDP again, with annual increases of 4.7 per cent in the 1990s versus the Socreds’ 3.8 per cent in the 1980s and the BC Liberals at just 1.2 per cent in the 2000s.

The BC NDP governments also bested the BC Liberals in annual growth of investments in machinery and equipment, with 4.59 per cent versus 3.52 per cent for Campbell and Social Credit fractionally in first place at 4.61 per cent.

Then there are more recent economic factors. Without question, Christy Clark had every right to boast that B.C. enjoyed the best provincial economy in Canada — though that didn’t get her re-elected.

Clark’s problem was that too many voters didn’t see those benefits and instead felt that a new government was needed to reduce emergency room and surgical waiting lists; remove expensive tolls on bridges; end out of control pay-for-play political donations; and increase social assistance rates after a decade of freezes, among other improvements promised by Horgan.

But Clark also dramatically increased British Columbia’s debt load — up an astonishing $10.85 billion in just the last four years — ironically after Clark ran on a “debt free BC” slogan in 2013.

And since becoming premier in 2011, Clark added 30 per cent more debt to the province’s books than the BC NDP did in its entire 10 years in office.

The overall debt picture during the BC Liberals’ 16-year reign is even more grim. They jacked total debt from $33.8 billion in 2001 to $66.7 billion in 2017, with their budget predicting it would rise to an enormous $77.7 billion by 2020.

So much for prudent fiscal management and debt control.

But did the BC Liberals best the NDP in some categories in the Business Council study? Yes, in non-residential business investment; unemployment rates; real per-capita income increases, real per-capita GDP growth and budget surpluses.

Still, the report’s most important point — other than dispelling the NDP “dismal decade” myth — is that no matter who is in power, B.C. is at the mercy of world economic forces.

“In global terms, B.C. is a very small market, representing less than one per cent of total North American gross domestic product,” the Business Council stated. “The province’s economic well-being is influenced as much or more by external factors (such as world prices for our natural resource exports or the value of the Canadian dollar) as by domestic public policies or other ‘internal’ developments.”

“No claim is made here that the policies of one provincial government directly led to better or worse economic results than the policies of another government,” the report continues. “Particularly for a small jurisdiction like B.C., such cause-and-effect assertions can be difficult to prove.”

Exactly — and worth remembering as Christy Clark and the BC Liberals resume their tired spiel that the BC NDP can’t run the proverbial peanut stand — when even B.C.’s biggest businesses know that Horgan’s party can and has economically outperformed its right-wing opponents.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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