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B.C. Premier Christy Clark, right, looks on as Finance Minister Mike de Jong leaves the Legislature after tabling his budget in Victoria, Feb. 19, 2013. (Jonatan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, right, looks on as Finance Minister Mike de Jong leaves the Legislature after tabling his budget in Victoria, Feb. 19, 2013. (Jonatan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberals toy with spending ‘poison pill’ Add to ...

The B.C. Liberal government has introduced a raft of legislative housekeeping bills, paving the way for politicians to vacate the capital and prepare for the looming election battle.

The grab-bag of proposed laws, introduced the day after the budget was tabled, would establish a new seniors’ advocate, name the Pacific salmon as the province’s official fish and broaden medical coverage for snowbirds.

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But the initiative that has rankled the opposition benches most has yet to be tabled. The B.C. Liberal government is toying with a poison pill that could create havoc for the legislators who take over after the May 14 election.

Because of the election date, the budget won’t become law this spring. Instead, Finance Minister Mike de Jong, who is also the Government House Leader, must bring in legislation that would authorize the government to meet its day-to-day spending obligations until a budget is passed some time after the votes are tallied.

“There will be an interim supply bill – there usually is in an election year,” Mr. de Jong told reporters Wednesday. “I haven’t finally settled on the length of time but it will be in the three-to-six-month range.” He said the shorter time frame would suit the Liberals: “Recalling parliament to have us reintroduce our budget and pass it would certainly be a priority for us if we were re-elected.”

Government sources say the Liberal caucus has been told it will be three months, which would be unusually short.

That would give the new government about three weeks after the election results are official to swear in the next crop of MLAs, appoint a new cabinet and bring the legislature back before the money runs out.

That appears aimed at making life difficult in the event of a change in government.

The New Democratic Party Opposition House Leader, John Horgan, termed the prospect “irresponsible” and “stupid.” If the Liberals win re-election, they already have a budget prepared. But if there is a change in government, the new team will barely have time to pick up the transition binders, much less conjure up a spending plan for the $44-billion annual operation of government. There would be little time to hire new staff or set up constituency offices in the rush to get acquainted with new portfolios.

The possibility of a short leash on interim supply was raised by the four Independent MLAs in the House on Wednesday.

“It’s not good government,” said Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson. He said the Liberals are expecting to lose to the NDP’s Adrian Dix if they opt for the three-month supply. “If the Liberals table three months, they are simply making sure Adrian Dix gets off to the worst possible start.”

Mr. Dix was troubled by the proposal. “We know the Liberal government is going to try to make it as difficult as possible for a subsequent government to do basic things,” he told reporters.

The NDP Leader said the budget tabled on Tuesday is riddled with holes and a new fiscal plan will take time to put together. He questioned the proposed sale of $800-million worth of government assets, plus the plan to collect a $245-million dividend from B.C. Hydro at a time when the Crown corporation is mired in red ink.

Follow on Twitter: @justine_hunter

 

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