NDP SHOWS RESTRAINT
Finance Minister Carole James’ budget update this week was a perfect compromise — it made no one happy. For the 40.28 per cent of British Columbians who voted for the New Democrats in the last election, the omission of $10-a-day child care — one of the central planks in the NDP platform — was a major disappointment. Also missing were the promised $400 renters’ rebate, interest-free student loans and more money for parks and culture.
For the 40.36 per cent who voted for the Liberals, the NDP plan to increase the carbon tax by $5 per tonne every year and abandon its revenue neutrality was almost as disturbing as an increase in the corporate tax rate and higher taxes on annual incomes above $150,000.
The 16.65 per cent who voted for the Green party are perhaps the most content of the lot as their leader made clear that delivering NDP election promises depended on his support. Still, there was little on the environment for them to cheer.
But to give James her due, no one should have expected the government to make good on every campaign promise in this document. And it did deliver on some major ones. The update included significant spending commitments for K-12 education, health care (including money to fight the fentanyl crisis), housing and social assistance. It also accelerated the phasing out of Medical Service Plan premiums.
Besides, what James tabled was an update of the previous Liberal government budget. She will present the NDP’s first full budget in February when details of those missing elements may be revealed.
Having burned through much of the surplus, however, James might not have a lot of room to manoeuvre without slipping into deficit, raising taxes again, or taking on debt to fund big-ticket items like transit infrastructure. As former NDP finance minister Elizabeth Cull noted in an opinion piece on Monday in The Vancouver Sun, James’ main challenge will be to manage expectations.
In its first swing at budgeting in 16 years, the NDP showed restraint and responsibility. Whether it can continue to do so depends as much on factors beyond its control — interest rates, currency fluctuations, trade deals, natural disasters, global economic growth — as it does on its own aspirations to deliver on its promises.