Liberals Economic Consultants Fail to Find NDP Budget Crater…But Make Their Own Embarrassing Mistakes

The BC election is getting really nasty with the BC Liberals doing everything they can to prove that the BC NDP election platform is built on sand. Last week they came out with their own costing that said it had a $6.5B crater. After the media and non-partisan experts laughed that out of town, the BC Liberals next tactic was to hire Peter Devries and Scott Clark, former bureaucrats from the Department of Finance in Ottawa and current economic consultants, to blow the platform apart. Their report has been made public today and I am infuriated. So infuriated that I am not following doctor’s orders of being off the computer and instead writing this for the good voters of British Columbia. What part of reading is so friggin’ hard for the BC Liberals, their team, and their consultants?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of respect for Devries and Clark. I worked with them in Ottawa at Finance, I run into them at conferences frequently of late, and read their musings in the opeds. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a BC NDP supporter. I have lots of problems with their platform (see below and report to read for yourself.

First, the economic consultants assume that the BC NDP will phase out the Medical Services Premium (MSP) within four years. The economic consultants then book $437M in 17/18, $875M in 18/19, and $1312M in 19/20. The NDP do NOT make this commitment. I mean read their platform. The NDP have committed to the same 50% reduction as the BC Liberals which is costed in their plan. Then over the three year period a

“non-partisan MSP Elimination Panel will advise how to protect health care funding while phasing out this unfair flat tax. The panel will be required to ensure low and middle-income families will come out ahead.”

So in year four, in year 2020/2021, one year beyond the platform period we will most likely have something like (this is my expert opinion based on my knowledge of the file) a revenue neutral shift away from the MSP premium into a progressive system similar to that which exists in every other province in Canada. There is NOTHING to cost, there is no CRATER, there is nothing to BOOK.

Second, the economists assume that the BC Hydro and ICBC freezes will be for four years as well. Huh? Where did they get that from? Not from the BC NDP plan for sure. There is nothing in the plan about that. What is in the plan? A plan for a plan. Nothing more. The plan is to pause all rate increases while they conduct a

“comprehensive operating review to look for inefficiencies, fiscal mismanagement, and cost savings that don’t impact services. Every dollar saved will be used to keep rates and fees down. We need to see the books to understand the full scale of Christy Clark’s mismanagement.”

Look, does this lack some transparency? Sure, but they are not in government. There is a lot of concern about rate increases. I mean, look at what is going on in Ontario. There is a lot of concern about the 50 year Independent Power Producer (IPP) contracts that BC Hydro has signed that total ($53B) more than half ($101B) of the off the books ‘debt’, sorry contractual obligations, that is hanging over the head of future generations. And whether or not the full cost of the one year freezes can covered through administrative savings, as the BC NDP platform indicates, is questionable, but to suggest that some of it can’t be is ludicrous and to say it is a four year commitment is reprehensible. If it is a four year freeze then the BC NDP had better come out and say so now, oh right, they have and said explicitly that it is not!

Third, the cost savings from waste and growth is a policy issue and not one for consultants to make a call on. I should note that Clark and Devries actually lead such an initiative in Ottawa under Finance Minister Martin where they found $3B a year through efficiency initiatives. These exercises are important and in fact realistic. Hell, just by eliminating the Home Owner Grant (HoG), we could achieve $800M a year in efficiencies (the NDP would not eliminate this I am just saying how easy it is to find waste). Is it not the place of these consultants to make such policy plays on behalf of the BC NDP when they know such savings are real because they’ve done it themselves.

Whether or not the statement about the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fund is true, I don’t know. I’ve been through Budget 2017 and can’t find the line item.

The funny part about this whole thing is that if the BC Liberals would just calm down for a moment (listen to advice they gave John Horgan in last weeks leader’s debate) and listen to the non-partisan commentary in the last two weeks is that there have been great critiques of the NDP platform in that it lacks real transparency on key items (it is a plan for a plan not a plan itself) and lacks costing for long term items (it is a 10 year plan but costs only three years). Why focus on such stupid items that are so easily torpedoed when the big items are left out there flapping in the wind?


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