With his eyes and ears tied to the dynamics of Canadian politics, award-winning Vancouver Sun political journalist, Vaughn Palmer, spoke at a recent NAIOP breakfast meeting. Spanning ten Premiers over 35 years, Vaughn has covered extensive issues impacting BC politics. On some top-of-mind topics, Vaughn shared his perspective and insight on the recent gasoline inquiry, The Non-Financial Severance Arrangement, BC’s credit status, and another reminder that every vote counts.
The Gasoline Inquiry
With rising gas prices, the BC Utilities Commission launched a public inquiry into gas prices. Through this inquiry, the Utilities Commission is allowed to call the executives of the gas companies and ask them to explain ‘gouging,’ a term noted within the terms of reference. Vaughn pointed out that the Utilities Commission is paradoxically not allowed to look at any decision made by the provincial government, or any policy (provincial), or any tax or regulation (provincial) that might contribute to gasoline prices. Calling the inquiry a “farce,” he also noted the expected timing of the report, August 30th and said, “By the time we get the answers from this inquiry, it’ll be beside the point, and, maybe that’s the point of the entire inquiry.”
The Non-Financial Severance Arrangement
Following allegations of misconduct by the Clerk of the Legislature and the Sergeant at Arms, Beverly McLachlin (the retired Chief Justice of Canada), found the Clerk guilty on four of eight counts. Upon presentation of the findings, she further announced the Clerk’s retirement - effective that very day. Vaughn shared the ironic details of the non-financial arrangement reached that day. The Clerk received six-months pay for the six months he was on suspension. He’d keep $5,000 worth of luggage he acquired at the taxpayers’ expense. And, resulting from a retirement scheme terminated some 25 years earlier, he’d keep $259,000 from a retirement allowance program paid out in 2012 even though he hadn’t retired.
BC’s Credit Rating
BC’s current credit rating, according to Vaughn, is AAA, a measure determined by comparing BC’s financial position to other jurisdictions. So while the government enjoys a strong credit rating and a balanced budget, the surplus inherited from the previous government is rapidly shrinking. Currently at two-to-three hundred million dollars according to Vaughn, he reminds us that there’s still plenty of promises which have yet to be paid for. Over two to three years, $1.8 billion will pay for three years of raises for public sector workers - a figure which doesn’t account for any new workers. Vaughn feels the Community Benefit Agreements, which force hiring from a hiring hall, will increase labour costs, further pressuring the budget. Also, there’s work to be completed on a 2 KM stretch of the Trans Canada Highway near Revelstoke - something projected to cost $85 million (a 35% increase from its original estimate). In this case, the federal government elected to cap their contribution, leaving the entire 22 million dollar overrun on the shoulders of British Columbians. The best way to cope according to Vaughn is to scale down the number of projects, or increase debt.
Every Vote Counts
Referring back to May 24th, 2017, Vaughn detailed the single vote in Courtenay/Comox which resulted in the NDP’s not only winning an additional seat but costing the Liberals their majority. Vaughn reminisced about a similar 1979 election outcome in the riding of Atlin. The vote, decided by one vote on a recount, was increasingly significant when the losing candidate and his wife admitted they neglected to vote themselves. Vaughn used these examples as a reminder that BC elections are often close - every vote does count.
Vaughn feels these are uncertain times in the world for any incumbent government - especially those in Canada. Following the credit crisis in 2008, most governments that faced an election were returned with a majority. The significance, according to Vaughn, is that in times of heightened insecurity, there’s an unwillingness to take a risk on something new. Since 2015 though, the opposite has happened. Of the ten governments sent to the polls, only two have emerged with a majority. Vaughn says, “Trudeau is right to be worried. He should be.”