Feel the pain

The Compass - - EDITORIAL -

Aus­ter­ity is not the word for it. The 2016 pro­vin­cial bud­get is verg­ing on dra­co­nian. Lit­er­ally no one has been spared from Fi­nance Min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett’s hatchet. Sev­eral pro­grams and sub­si­dies have been slashed, in­clud­ing the baby bonus and home heat­ing sup­ple­ment. Of course, there’s a new in­come sup­ple­ment, but it doesn’t en­tirely off­set the hit to peo­ple’s pock­ets. Nu­mer­ous taxes and levies are go­ing up, in­clud­ing in­come tax. HST will be 15 per cent, de­spite Premier Dwight Ball’s solemn vow to keep it at 13. Gas tax will jump an ex­tra 16.5 cents a litre. Hun­dreds of jobs, pub­lic and pri­vate, will be lost. For those who hoped for more of a bur­den on the rich, there’s a bizarrely re­gres­sive debt levy. That’s right, ev­ery­one ex­cept those in ab­ject poverty will have to pony up ex­tra money for the next few years specif­i­cally to help feed the mon­ster. And get this: if your house­hold makes about $40,000, you’ll owe $450. If you make 10 times that, the amount only dou­bles. Fair? Hardly. There’s a lot of blame fly­ing around for this cur­rent mess. For­mer premier Danny Wil­liams and sub­se­quent Tory premiers have been get­ting a lot of it. And while we would have been in a hole re­gard­less, it’s ac­cu­rate to say the size of the hole has a lot to do with Wil­liams’ ten­ure in of­fice. “We haven’t just taken a piggy bank filled up with oil and spent it,” Wil­liams told The Globe and Mail in 2010, just af­ter leav­ing pol­i­tics. “We have to spend our money wisely. We have to put in the proper in­fras­truc­ture - roads, schools, hos­pi­tals, broad­band, a proper com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fras­truc­ture - so that we can en­cour­age peo­ple to come and live and work and pros­per here. That’s al­ways been the game plan.” Well, he was partly right. In­fras­truc­ture and pub­lic ser­vices are im­por­tant. But he cer­tainly did drain the piggy bank. By 2011, govern­ment spend­ing had in­creased by a whop­ping 83 per cent un­der the Tory govern­ment. That, de­spite re­peated warn­ings from the au­di­tor gen­eral that the prov­ince was be­ing too reck­less with its oil boom roy­al­ties. In fact, the warn­ings came from many sides, in­clud­ing the opin­ion pages of this news­pa­per. Pick any bud­get, and you’ll see the same con­cerns raised. From the April 8, 2011 Tele­gram ed­i­to­rial, the first un­der Kathy Dun­derdale’s reign: “There is no doubt that oil is help­ing us live very well. But with­out th­ese dol­lars, we are liv­ing well be­yond our means, and we’ve had plenty of warn­ing that the oil dol­lars aren’t likely to last.” Here’s Rus­sell Wanger­sky from the year be­fore: “The prov­ince is mak­ing much-needed im­prove­ments in the present. The ques­tion is whether we can af­ford them in the fu­ture, or whether it would be bet­ter to tighten belts now, and rein­vest the wind­fall for the fu­ture.” And none of this takes into ac­count the dou­bling of our debt bur­den and soar­ing elec­tric­ity rates we face be­cause of Muskrat Falls. The Lib­er­als may or may not have gone overboard in this aus­ter­ity bud­get. But the hole they faced could have been a lot less cav­ernous, too.

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