This spring's truncated sitting of the legislative assembly offered both the governing BC Liberals and the opposition New Democrats an opportunity to road-test themes and issues for the May 12 general election.
Much media attention was lavished on the NDP's barrage of questions around the unregistered lobbying activities of BC Liberal strategist Patrick Kinsella. Almost none was given to questionable allegations raised by Gordon Campbell and his ministers over the New Democrats' legislative voting record.
It started in question period on Monday, Feb. 9, as NDP MLAs blasted the government over the wave of gangland killings sweeping across the Lower Mainland. John Van Dongen, minister of public safety and solicitor general, responded by blurting: "...the members opposite have voted against every single increase in spending for policing in this province in the last eight years."
He later repeated the charge: "They have voted against provincial spending on the provincial police force."
The next day, Premier Gordon Campbell picked up on the theme: "The thing that distinguishes our side of the house from that side of the house is we've added hundreds of police officers," the premier claimed. "They've voted against every single one of them!"
And then the day after that, Van Dongen defended the government by outlining several areas where his department had hiked police resources. "And all those increases," he shouted, "the NDP opposed!"
In short, both the premier and solicitor general claimed that the New Democrats had voted against each and every funding increase the BC Liberal government gave to provincial policing.
Sorry, not true
It's easy enough to check. All one has to do is review Hansard over the past eight years and count the number of times the New Democrats voted against the spending estimates for Van Dongen's ministry.
After just a few minutes, the answer emerges. Zero. Not once. The record shows that the NDP approved each and every one of the department's spending requests.
On Aug. 14, 2001 -- barely three months after the Campbell Liberals won election to government -- the legislature approved without division $443.7 million for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. The next year, on Mar. 6 2002, $461.5 million was approved. Then, on Mar. 6, 2003, nearly $481 million gained approval, and a year later, on Mar. 31, 2004, $478.9 million passed without dissent.
Following the May 2005 general election, the legislature on Nov. 14 approved $500.2 million for the department. A year later, on May 18, 2006, nearly $524 million gained approval. Similarly, on May 2, 2007, $579.4 million passed without dissent, and just last May 29, the legislature approved departmental spending of $617.6 million.
Libs and NDP united!
So, from 2001, when the Campbell Liberals first took power, until the fiscal year just ended, the budget for the Ministry of Solicitor General and Public Safety grew from about $444 million to almost $618 million. The New Democratic Party opposition, every step of the way, approved each increase.
It was a theme that the government repeated frequently during the legislative sitting. As late as March 24, Rich Coleman said the New Democrats had "voted against" increases in social assistance rates. And on March 31, Ida Chong accused the NDP of opposing "every budget that brought forward more dollars for local governments... health care... and education."
It's a theme, false or not, that British Columbians likely will hear repeated throughout the election campaign.
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