Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. --Aaron Levenstein
Here are three screaming front page newspaper headlines that you should see -- but likely won't -- in British Columbia before the May 12 provincial election:
- Premier Gordon Campbell's B.C. Liberals worst economic managers in province's history!
- British Columbia job losses lead all Canada in recession!
- B.C. 2009 budget deficit phoney as $3 bill!
What, you say? How can this be true?
First, look at the cold, hard facts about B.C.'s economy.
Growth was higher under NDP
Start from 2001, when the B.C. Liberals took power, and use private-sector estimates through 2009 -- even though they are rosy and likely to be far worse -- and the results are stunning.
During the B.C. Liberal government reign, the average annual rate of economic growth was 2.6 per cent.
But what was the average annual growth when the New Democratic Party was in power from 1991 to 2001 -- the so-called "dismal decade," to quote Campbell and a host of B.C. Liberal business donors who are sponsoring ads attacking the NDP, like the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association?
Try annual growth of 2.8 per cent -- a better record than the B.C. Liberals.
NDP saw more job growth, too
Can't believe it? Think it's a trick? Look at employment growth then.
During the NDP's decade, employment grew by 22 per cent, or 344,100 jobs. Between 2001 and 2008, the B.C. Liberals have seen 20 per cent growth, or 392,700 jobs, for a lower percentage increase.
But wait! From January through March, B.C. has lost a staggering 63,000 jobs -- 35,000 in January, 5,000 in February and 23,000 in March, the month that led all of Canada.
Overall, Statistics Canada says B.C. lost 69,000 jobs since October 2008, a three per cent drop.
That means B.C. Liberal job growth is actually only 323,700 jobs from 2001 to April 2009 -- far less than the NDP.
And as Statistics Canada notes, B.C. had Canada's highest increase in Employment Insurance beneficiaries between January 2008 and 2009 -- a two per cent jump in the unemployment rate.
(The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' Marc Lee compiled some of these statistics on their B.C. election blog -- The Lead Up.)
Is that modest deficit for real?
Then there's the BC Liberal budget, which predicts a $495 million deficit this year, a number that is simply unbelievable.
Helmut Pastrick -- the respected chief economist of Central 1 Credit Union (formerly B.C. Central Credit Union) has said the B.C. Liberal government's numbers were way off -- he thought the deficit this year should be $1 billion to $1.5 billion.
"A deficit of $1 to $1.5 billion or 0.6 per cent of GDP in 2009-10 is the more likely outcome due to revenue shortfalls," said Central 1 Credit Union's report on the budget. "Revenue in 2009-10 is not likely to be realized, particularly in the personal income, social service and property transfer lines."
And writing in The Tyee, Will McMartin called it a "toxic fudge budget" because the numbers were so cooked and sweet.
"It's the same old pre-election, budgetary sleight-of-hand British Columbians have seen many times in the past, but of a scale and breadth never seen before. Expenditures have been artificially dampened, revenues boosted heavenward and a fiscal shock-absorber eliminated, all to create the illusion of a fiscal shortfall that is probably just one-quarter to one-fifth of its actual size," McMartin, a former Social Credit government aide, wrote in February.
And all that was before B.C.'s disastrous unemployment numbers came in.
What does Alberta know that we don't?
Then, last week, oil-rich Alberta tabled a $4.7 billion deficit for the year ahead -- almost 10 times larger than B.C.'s, and projected a four-year, $10.3 billion deficit.
Alberta's government is planning for a full two per cent drop in GDP this year and expects a $1.4 billion deficit for the year that just ended, when all the numbers are in.
And Alberta did better than B.C. on unemployment last month -- a still substantial 15,000 job losses -- but far less than this province's 23,000.
But B.C. will have a balanced budget in just two years? I smell fudge.
Now, where are all those newspaper headlines denouncing the B.C. Liberals?
A shorter version of this column was printed in 24 Hours newspaper on Tuesday, April 14, 2009.
Related Tyee stories:
- This Budget Is Toxic Fudge
BC's government is in denial about the economic realities we face.
- Forestry recommendations won't add jobs, say critics
- NDP platform full of shortfalls, bad for industry: BC Liberals