Fiscal hawkishness is prevailing philosophy of provincial government

Coleman made a statement that succinctly summarizes the philosophy of the provincial government — "Christy Clark is a fiscal hawk."

Deputy premier Rich Coleman was among four local politicians speaking at the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce’s annual session with local elected officials.

The session used to be with the two Langley mayors, but was expanded this year to include MP Mark Warawa, MLAs Coleman and Mary Polak (who was unable to attend, due to a last-minute scheduling conflict) and Langley Township Mayor Jack Froese and Langley City Mayor Ted Schaffer.

There was a large turnout and it was a very good opportunity to hear from representatives of all levels of government at one sitting, and to allow the audience to differentiate what level of government is responsible for what service, and how they are able to co-operate on many projects.

Coleman made one statement that, in my opinion, succinctly summarizes the philosophy of the provincial government.

“(Premier) Christy Clark is a fiscal hawk. You have to keep your house in order to be successful.”

This hawkishness can be seen with many issues that are percolating at the moment.

Since the election of 2013, when Clark  won an increased majority against long odds, the province has focused in on keeping the growth in government spending manageable. At the same time, it has tried, so far without much visible success, to broaden the economic base.

Coleman’s main job is to try and attract substantiual LNG investment, and get a major player to commit to building a plant in B.C. He is still working hard on that objective, and remains optimistic.

On the spending side, Clark assigned Peter Fassbender to education with the overriding objective of keeping costs down. He endured a challenging teachers’ strike, but in the end the government made a fair deal with teachers that is longer-term, and keeps costs more manageable.

The education ministry also wants school districts to contribute more to capital costs of new schools — a direct raid on real estate assets held by school districts.

The province is using the hammer to extract a new Fair Share agreement this year in northern and rural B.C. This regional tax sharing agreement doesn’t expire until 2020, but the government wants it renegotiated at terms more favourable to the province.

Then there’s the TransLink referendum. Clark promised before the election that no new taxes would be paid by Metro Vancouver residents to TransLink without their direct approval. That’s why there’s a vote, and even though the province says it supports the ‘yes’ campaign, you can also hear the sound of one hand clapping.

A public rebuke to a tax increase would actually be music to provincial ears, for both political and economic  reasons.

The B.C. government is also continuing to boost MSP premiums, BC Hydro rates and ICBC rates. All of these lead to more funds in the provincial treasury and boost the bottom line.

The most recent budget surplus is just over $850 million, at a time when other provinces are having tough times fiscally and few are able to balance their budgets.

Hawkishness on spending is bound to continue, and if it proves to be political gold, expect even more of it.