For most of their 16 years in power, the BC Liberals relied on the same line of attack against their NDP opponents: They were the business-savvy party that understood what it meant to guard the public purse while the New Democrats were hopeless incompetents who ran the province into the ground in the 1990s.
It was a strategy that worked until it didn’t and the Liberals succumbed to their own arrogant ways.
And the past few months have revealed just what an outrageous deceit the Liberals’ long-held case for power actually was. Yes, governments taking over from a party that was in power as long as the Liberals always uncover a skeleton or two. But the mess the former administration left behind for its NDP successor to clean up is, on many levels, shocking in its scope and magnitude. And we’re discovering new things by the day.
The latest is the contemptible disregard the Liberals demonstrated toward criminal activity taking place in the province’s casinos, especially in Metro Vancouver. Easily more than $100-million was laundered through these venues, to be used elsewhere in the economy. The man in charge at the time, solicitor-general Rich Coleman, has said he didn’t knowingly ignore the problem; he just did what the police asked him to.
But now people are coming out of the woodwork to dispute Mr. Coleman’s version of events, including the former head of the province’s illegal gambling enforcement team. Fred Pinnock told Global BC this week that the Liberals were absolutely aware of what was going on in the casinos but didn’t act because they didn’t want to disrupt the flow of money into the provincial treasury as a result of it. An explosive charge if there ever was one.
Mr. Pinnock referred to what was going on in the casinos as the “wild west.” Which, funnily enough, is the same term people used to characterize the province’s campaign finance laws under the Liberals – because there effectively weren’t any. The Liberals loved all those millions they were getting from developers who were getting richer by the day under the party’s governance.
It was Mr. Coleman who gave the order to scrap Mr. Pinnock’s enforcement team in 2009, a move that a recent report into money laundering activities in the province suggested helped criminal elements make major inroads into the province’s casinos. No wonder there are growing demands for a public inquiry into this matter. The thought of such a probe must be making members of the former government very uncomfortable.
And then, the other day, B.C.’s Auditor-General, Carol Bellringer, tabled a report that examined the former government’s disastrous handling of a land sale in Coquitlam. She found that, through nothing but incompetence, the government knowingly undersold 150 hectares of land, losing tens of millions of dollars in the process.
Yes, the same government, whose members often sneered at and mocked the NDP opposition any time a matter concerning business competence came up. The Liberals were fond of bragging about how their government was loaded with MLAs who had corporate experience, people who actually ran things in their previous life, while the NDP was just a washed up bunch of former social workers and union activists, “socialists” who couldn’t run a lemonade stand.
Now it’s those same “socialists” who have to try to fix the plethora of vexing issues left behind by a gang that loved the trappings of power but often didn’t want to do the hard work of governing.
The problems are everywhere. The terrible bind at the province’s insurance company is another example. When the New Democrats took over, they discovered just what a financial basket case the Crown corporation was, and getting worse by the day. The Liberals siphoned more than $1-billion from ICBC’s financial reserves to help balance their budgets. No wonder they made it look easy. Then there was the Site C dam, whose costs were far greater than the Liberals let on. Add to that Metro Vancouver’s transit plan, stalled because of the petulant, ego-driven actions of the former government. Consequently, all sorts of work that could have begun years ago got put off. And let’s not forget the housing crisis, which the Liberals denied existed until prices were out of control.
We could go on. And on.
Suffice to say that it will be a long time before the Liberals can, with a straight face, attempt to use “fiscal stewardship” as the reason to vote for them. In fact, it may be the NDP that resorts to talking about the former government’s 16-year reign of error, and why the province doesn’t want to revisit those days any time soon.