At this time last year, Christy Clark was still officially a radio host. Collecting a premier’s salary without any of the headaches, life was grand. When callers to her show annoyed her, she simply cut them off. Her problems were solved with the click of a button. If only it were that easy today in her role as B.C. Premier.
There may not be a provincial leader in the country dealing with quite the mess Ms. Clark faces. Collectively, her tribulations have become a millstone that’s dragging her Liberal Party lower and lower in the polls. She cancelled plans for a fall election because of it. But there’s nothing on the horizon except more trouble.
The legs of the B.C. economy become more wobbly by the day. Among other things, natural gas revenues are tanking. In recent years, they’ve been the single biggest revenue generator for the province. Falling commodity prices were just one of the factors that B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon cited this week in announcing that the projected deficit for the fiscal year is now expected to be $3-billion, up $200-million from the last forecast. He also had to concede that the government might not be able to balance the budget in 2013 as it promised and to which it’s obligated under legislation passed earlier this year.
Through three consecutive elections, the Liberals convinced British Columbians they were better managers of the economy than the opposition New Democrats. That myth is crumbling. It’s now evident the B.C. Liberals know how to rack up debt with the best of them, and break fiscal promises, too.
There remains widespread anger over the HST. Mostly because of the incredibly inept way it was brought in, the tax was voted out by British Columbians in a referendum this summer. Now the government is trying to get rid of it, an exceedingly complicated manoeuvre that has left many industries, such as home building, in limbo.
The 12-per-cent HST applied to the purchase of any new homes over $550,000. Because that will disappear when the province reverts back to the provincial sales tax system, people are now waiting before making an expensive residential purchase. Who wouldn’t? It could save them tens of thousands of dollars.
Ms. Clark, meantime, has had to go cap in hand to the federal government to seek relief from the $1.6-billion bill it owes Ottawa for reneging on its agreement to bring in the harmonized sales tax. Talk about embarrassing.
The Premier has pegged her near-term economic hopes on the start-up of eight new mines. Good luck with that. In the past decade, more B.C. mines have shut down than opened. Almost every new proposal is met with environmental opposition that often succeeds in killing the spirit of the proponents. Meantime, the much-vaunted $6.6-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would create thousands of jobs in B.C., increasingly seems like a pipe dream. Fierce native resistance to the plan is just one of the many (and seemingly insurmountable) hurdles the project faces.
If that weren’t enough to make Ms. Clark yearn for her radio host’s chair, the Chief Justice of the B.C. Supreme Court recently blasted the government for underfunding the province’s legal system and leaving it close to dysfunctional as a result.
By the time Ms. Clark has to call an election in the spring of 2013, the Liberals will have been in office for 12 years. A government can accumulate a lot of odorous baggage over that time – and this one has. Two Liberal MLAs recently called it quits to pursue other opportunities. Rumours abound that more will soon jump ship. Meantime, popular former suburban mayor Joe Trasolini, widely expected to run for the Liberals in the next election, just announced he’ll run for the New Democrats instead.
In government and on radio, Ms. Clark forged a reputation as a scrapper. Well, she’s in the fight of her political life now. And there are no buttons to push to make her problems go away.