After weeks of concern that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell was seriously considering cuts to health care and education to battle the province’s growing budget deficit, the most conservative Liberal in Canada fulfilled everyone’s worst fears with a Speech from the Throne that calls for — you guessed it — cuts to health and education.
I recently offered the opinion that it was lunacy to cut health care and education to battle deficits because we did that in the 1990s, and it has made the public health care system much more expensive now than it needed to be.
We saw what happened when we cut doctors, nurses, hospital beds and surgeries. We had longer and longer waits for procedures, overworked doctors and nurses, and ultimately bigger bills to correct all these problems. No one, I argued, was foolish enough to go through that again.
Apparently I was wrong. In the Liberal government’s throne speech Tuesday, which provided a peek into next week’s provincial budget, Campbell outlined plans to cut funding for all health authorities and schools. One health authority is predicting as much as a 15-per-cent cut to elective surgeries. All areas of government spending are likely to be affected.
On its own, this is bad management by government. But in Campbell’s case, it’s especially bad because of all the bad decisions he’s made in the past year. Yes, B.C. is facing a huge multibillion-dollar deficit caused by the recession. But that didn’t stop him from making a bad situation worse last year.
In October, with a recession already upon us, Campbell fast-tracked hundreds of million dollars in income tax cuts as part of his government’s stimulus initiatives.
Cutting taxes to stimulate the economy is, IMHO, a pretty pointless strategy. One of the reasons Canada fell so quickly into the recession behind the U.S. is not because people didn’t have money, but because they were afraid to spend their money, and were instead saving and paying off their debts. Give them a break on taxes, and you’re giving people more money to save and pay off debt.
Now, 10 months after those tax cuts, Campbell is cutting key government services. You can’t blame B.C.’s fiscal woes entirely on tax cuts, but it certainly seems now it was the wrong measure at the wrong time.
I wonder what B.C. voters would have done in last May’s provincial election if they knew that those tax cuts were going to require the government to cut health care? Campbell won a larger majority in that election, but then again, no one really knew what was coming.
To make matters worse, Campbell has announced he will use $1.6 billion in Harmonized Sales Tax compensation to help backfill the money he’s going to cut out of health and education.
That money, provided by Ottawa, is typically used to fund tax rebates to lower-income British Columbians to soften the blow of putting PST onto a broader range of goods and services to match the GST base.
Now, Campbell is going to use that money in a fiscal shell game to cover up the fact that he cut taxes too deeply and at the wrong time and now he doesn’t have the money to pay for the most important services.
Lunacy repeating itself. I feel quite silly that I had the gall to suggest that it wouldn’t.