In the midst of his successful campaign to become leader of the B.C. Liberals, Andrew Wilkinson offered a blunt assessment of why his party was now sitting in Opposition instead of on the government benches.
"We were preaching at people from 30,000 feet, telling them about credit ratings, telling them about our debt-to-GDP ratio," Mr. Wilkinson said of his party's election campaign messaging. "The NDP [meantime] were in their living rooms offering them a cheaper way of life."
It was a pointed, but certainly deadly accurate appraisal of the markedly different approaches the province's two main political entities took into the last election. If nothing else, the result drove home the fact that after 16 long years in office, Mr. Wilkinson's party had lost touch with vast swaths of the electorate it was there to serve.
How much better the New Democrats were at tapping into and understanding the profound frustration and anger many British Columbians were feeling was on full display in this week's budget. As hackneyed as it may sound, the government designed a fiscal plan that addressed the long-ignored needs of average folks, over the wants and wishes of a corporate and development community beloved and coddled by the former government.
Much of the postbudget analysis focused on the government's housing initiatives, which were bold and well-intended. While they're unlikely to create cheaper homes, at least people living B.C. will no longer feel that the market is a pitifully tilted, unregulated playground for offshore interests and sharks of dubious background and intent.
Only attempts to fix the embarrassment that is the province's world-renowned housing mess could overshadow (slightly) something like a $1-billion investment in daycare. Sure, the NDP may have quietly dropped its $10-a-day daycare slogan (for now), but to focus on that misses the greater point: what the government did was address a problem that was creating daily heartache for parents in every corner of the province. There will now be thousands of new daycare spaces, and subsidies to help mitigate costs for families just scraping by.
The government announced the elimination of Medical Services Plan premiums, and froze ferry fares on the province's three major routes. It expanded drug coverage to 240,000 more families. It offered help for low-income seniors. The list goes on. There were few make-life-more-affordable boxes Finance Minister Carole James didn't tick in Tuesday's budget.
Nurses, construction workers, teachers, engineers, city workers – those were the people, Ms. James said, this budget was aimed at helping. People building careers and young families. People making decent middle-class incomes, yet living paycheque-to-paycheque.
That is why this budget is going to be difficult for the Opposition Liberals to criticize, try as they might. It addresses a fundamental failing of their government to demonstrate even the tiniest bit of compassion and sympathy for the average person and their workaday lives. It was a budget that focused attention away from the elites and the bond-rating agencies and toward people who genuinely need help.
How can the Liberals even open their mouths about the housing measures? They have zero credibility on this file. They helped create the disaster that the NDP is now trying to clean up. Are they going to hammer the government for building up the rental pool in Metro Vancouver, helping struggling millennials everywhere? And what can the Opposition say about the NDP's historic outlay in child care? That there isn't the money for it? This, after the plan has been roundly praised by parents and child care advocates everywhere.
No, this is Mr. Wilkinson's problem. As the now-leader of the Liberals he is faced with the unpleasant task of trying to condemn a budget that addresses the needs of the very people he candidly admitted his party forgot about in the last election. He was right then. He can't be wrong now.
The Liberals and their proxies will attempt to focus on the tax increases that have helped underwrite the cost of many of the programs announced by the government. And the NDP will likely say: bring it on.
In a province where income inequality is so pronounced, any moves by the government to ask the wealthy to pay a bit more will be welcomed by the masses, not denounced. If the Liberals take up the fight on behalf of people living in $3-million homes who are upset they are being asked to share a little more of their new-found wealth, I wish them luck.
Sometimes, when your opponent has achieved something commendable, it's best to just acknowledge it and move on.