VICTORIA – “Liberal” is becoming one of the most ill-defined words in Canadian politics.
Here in B.C., a Liberal is a Conservative, or at least a fiscal conservative, bent on balancing budgets and battling big unions to force them to recognize today’s world of low growth and low inflation.
In Ottawa, a Liberal is currently whatever Justin Trudeau wakes up and decides. One day he’s a libertarian who wants to legalize marijuana, and the next he’s in touch with his inner Taliban, issuing a moral edict on abortion.
In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne saved her gut-shot Liberal government by limping to the left of the NDP, promising to spend lots more borrowed money and build lots of transit.
This is in a have-not province with an operating deficit that is currently running north of $12 billion. For comparison purposes, B.C.’s deficit swelled briefly beyond $3 billion in the wake of the Great Recession of 2009, and the books stayed in the red until last year as the B.C. Liberals unwound the Harmonized Sales Tax and repaid a $1.6 billion HST transfer allowance to Ottawa.
You think B.C.’s energy policy is a disaster? Check out Ontario, where the cops are still investigating the $1 billion cancellation of plans to construct two natural gas-fired power plants before the 2011 election. The gas plants were to stabilize erratic output from wind and solar power, a European-style climate change gesture that involved Ontario ratepayers giving a huge subsidy to Korean tech giant Samsung.
The Ontario Liberals clung to power in part by promising a provincial pension scheme on the same scale as the Canada Pension Plan.
B.C. has a similar pension program in the works, to be offered to the two thirds of small business and self-employed people who don’t have a group plan with their employer. Ours would, of course, be voluntary.
Not so in Ontario, where large and small businesses will be required to cough up half of the required pension payments.
The Ontario model is dumb on several levels. It is to be imposed just as the baby boom retirement wave breaks across Canada’s most populous province, increasing risk that the pension pool may run dry. And it sticks small business with a new payroll tax in a province that has lost much of its traditional manufacturing base and needs to innovate.
Here’s the funny part, if you don’t live in Ontario. Wynne tabled her spending-spree, deficit-be-damned budget in an effort to convince the NDP to keep propping up the Liberal minority government and avoid an election.
Instead, she won a majority and now has to implement her pie-in-the-sky promises. Ontario is bracing for a downgrade in its credit rating based on the election result, and is about to go into province-wide bargaining with public service unions who want their share from the Liberal money tree.
Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak ran on a plan that sounded similar to the one presented by Christy Clark in 2013: hold the line on spending, balance the budget, reduce the size of government, stimulate job creation. Hudak was rejected for a second time, and resigned the leadership on election night.
B.C. voters now have three years to see how the Ontario version of Liberal government plays out, compared to the B.C. Liberal version.
For us, much depends on resource development, including forest products, natural gas and other trade with Asia.
If all goes well here, B.C. can continue to send transfer payments to the fantasyland of Ontario.
Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc