Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia and Michael de Jong, the Minister of Finance, deserve praise for a sober pre-election budget, which does not attempt to buy the voters with their own money. Although the 1-percentage-point increase in the corporate income-tax rate is regrettable, a balance or modest surplus after four successive deficits is an accomplishment in hard times – difficult especially for a natural-resource-based provincial economy – when the other large Canadian provinces are in deficit.
Though the fixed election date of May 14 may mean that the Legislative Assembly will not have time to pass this budget, it should at least be acknowledged as a campaign document that contains very few crowd-pleasing elements. On the contrary, a rise in medical-services premiums will heighten awareness of health-care costs.
The foolish return to the Provincial Sales Tax on April Fool’s Day, 2013 – not the choice of the provincial Liberals, but of the voters – adds to the difficulties that the government faces.
For the sake of the province’s international competitiveness, it would have been better if Mr. de Jong’s budget had limited the corporate-tax increase from 10 to 11 per cent to just a few years, much as was done with the personal rate increase for people with incomes of more than $150,000, for just two years.
The numbers in this budget appear to be solid. The Vancouver Board of Trade has found the $1.1-billion savings in government departments to be plausible, and projected natural-gas revenues were revised downward by $379-million, at the instance of an independent economist, Tim O’Neill, a former vice-president of the Bank of Montreal.
Hitherto, the Clark government had not shown a seriousness on policy equal to that of Gordon Campbell, the previous premier. There might have been some merit in a less coldly technocratic way of governing, but for the most part the result has been a lack of a sense of direction. This budget, however, shows some resolve. “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight,” said Samuel Johnson 21/2 centuries ago, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
The same is true of a prospect of election defeat in three months. Mr. de Jong’s budget is a credible, creditable document.