share of wealth in BC

We can’t afford Christy Clark’s government

If this government were in Russia, or China, the Balkans, or some developing-world country, it’s behaviour would just be written off as nepotism or corruption.

by Bruce Mason

We can’t continue to overpay Christy Clark and Rich Coleman & Company while they extract wealth for their election donors and foreign investors. BC’s in bad shape. For too long, the province’s deterioration has been ignored, neglected or deliberately misdiagnosed. Instead, the standing-government’s focus is the lucrative business of fund-raising, raking in $12.3 million last year – $8 million from corporations – including controversial pay-for-play dinners with the premier, some with a tab as high as $20,000. The pay-off included topping up Clark’s salary, a practice banned everywhere else except Saskatchewan.

A recent exposé of the corruption of Clark’s government by one of the world’s most-highly regarded sources, the New York Times, was greeted with a media maelstrom, long-overdue gasps and many red faces. “British Columbia: The ‘Wild West’ of Canadian Political Cash,” the headline screamed. But it’s not new news. BC’s local media has repeatedly reported on this issue. Why did it take the New York Times to shock a global audience in summing up the warning signs of our government’s bad habits? The rhetoric is a lot like confirming the causes of their persistent cough and shortness of breath to a two-pack-a-day smoker who has heard the warnings a million times.

Christy, apparently, has needed more than her $195,000 premier’s salary, plus additional perks and benefits. Post-Times fallout, she vowed to quit her additional $50,000 annual stipend – $300,000, in total – in favour of a filter-tipped expense account. But BC neoliberal outliers, caught sneaking an oil-addicted puff, with the other hand in a cookie jar, won’t quit or cut down on their consumption of large corporate and foreign donations.

Times reporter Dan Levin justified his disclosures as a “Kafkaesque dystopian nightmare of shady politics and conflict of interest. If this were in Russia, or China, the Balkans, or some developing-world country, it would just be written off as nepotism or corruption. Checks and balances are important and hopefully this will spur British Columbians to take a closer look at how their government behaves.”

Among other things, the Times noted Clark Liberals pocketed more than $718,000 from Kinder Morgan, the infamous, Texas-based pipeline giant whose Trans Mountain pipeline Christy just rubber-stamped with a wink, a grin and a green light.

Reaction to threats of corruption included our woefully out-of shape, out-of-touch, many-titled and entitled Deputy Premier, Minister of Natural Gas Development, and Minister Responsible for Housing Minister, Rich Coleman (whew). “Laughable,” he said, adding, “I do find it a bit rich when they’ve just spent about a billion dollars on the presidency in US.” Rich, who if re-elected may also be appointed Minister of Silly Walks, added, “We go out and work very hard to raise money and make those connections.”

That recalls his previous insults, especially the one regarding unaffordable accommodation: “I guess some people just have to get up and whine every day.”

The costs of making the Liberal war chest the top priority are enormous and twinge-worthy.

The Broadbent Institute’s PressProgress (www.pressprogress.ca) recently published three graphs, which confirm the results. The prognosis is as clear and worrisome as medical charts. While Christy took credit for jobs created, so-called balanced budgets and the elusive joys of pipe-dreamed fracked LNG, a very small group has absconded with BC’s wealth.

Clark’s carefully crafted takeaways and talking points don’t ever include this jaw-dropping divide between extreme wealth and poverty in BC, currently Canada’s highest and growing exponentially.

This disparity has also been reported (see Common Ground, June 2015) by Andrew MacLeod in his best-selling, award-winning book, A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour). Once again, it’s clear confirmation that this province’s obscene inequity is the direct result of the BC government’s deliberate policy to shift the tax burden away from wealthy donors.

Earnings of the top 10% began to spike at the 2000 millennium, while the share of BC’s bottom 50% sunk just as dramatically, as then-Liberal-premier Gordon Campbell introduced regressive tax policies to disproportionately benefit fat cats.

PressProgress also quotes the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, noting that the BC Liberals’ “decade of tax cuts” and “regressive changes to the provincial tax system” helped to “exacerbate growing income inequality,” a practice perfected in Christy’s reign. The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition reports our provincial income gap is growing the fastest in Canada, noting, “The average household income of the top 1% in BC has increased by 36%” since the mid-2000s; the most current data from StatCan highlights that 10% in BC now own more than half of the wealth in our province.

The results are ubiquitous across BC. More people are slipping through gaping cracks into homelessness, joining the skyrocketing number of workers with full-time jobs sinking beneath the poverty line. Half of the folks in BC who turned to food banks in 2016 were low-wage breadwinners, up 3.4% from 2015. We have the highest child poverty rate in the country and we are the only province with no poverty reduction plan. More than 12% of BC wage earners reported dealing with food insecurity in 2016, along with Canada’s highest rents and lowest business taxes.

Our heel-dragging BC Liberals’ minimum wage was frozen at $8/hr. for a decade, before gradually and reluctantly rising to $10.85/hr (2016), still Canada’s lowest. One-quarter of BC’s workforce – half a million folks – currently earn under $15/hr, well below what most families need to make ends meet. As wages stagnate, costs for food housing and child-care costs are rising. In Vancouver, the price of a detached home jumped 19 times, relative to median household income, and the ratio for condos increased six times.

The obvious next question from any patient who receives such a stark diagnosis would be: “How long have I got?” The answer: until the provincial election, May 9, 2017.

Clark, whose attention span resembles a hummingbird, is taking time out from serving her corporate donors to beak about the Liberals’ truly laughable, much too-late, inadequate and distractive efforts on affordable housing investment, clean tech innovation, etc.

Warning: watch your diet, including the flood of sugary, big-budget government junk infotainment. And exercise is recommended, such as protest marching, volunteering and door knocking on behalf of more organic and healthy alternatives. The Liberal status quo is unsustainable, even downright dangerous, for you and your friends and family – especially your children.

Please email the issues in BC that concern you most to: brucemason@shaw.ca.

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