POLICY WORKING PAPER #3
Re-Constructing the Progressive Agenda
The government provided by the New Democratic Party from 1991 to 2001 produced much better overall economic and social results than the government that has been provided by the Campbell Liberals since 2001. The Harcourt, Clark and Dosanjh governments were able to do this while dealing with a backlog of critical issues which had been ignored by a dysfunctional Social Credit government, a blinding media spotlight, and an economy undergoing a fundamental transition. And in addition to providing, on balance, responsible government in turbulent times, NDP governments always recognized a larger project for government -- to be an expression of the desire of citizens to build a better society.
In time, the impact of the decisions being made by the current government will be more fully understood, and the accomplishments of the years of NDP government will be judged in a more balanced historical perspective. This will provide an opportunity to re-build public support for a government that invests instead of divests, and promotes hope and optimism instead of fear and division.
Why we’re different from the Liberals
Tax and fiscal policy
The huge tax cuts announced by the Liberals as soon as they were sworn into office set the agenda for the government. Any prospect of carefully reviewing government programs to see if they were still serving their intended purpose was superseded by a government focused on a simple two point agenda: major tax cuts plus a balanced budget. British Columbians have for the last 2 years been living with the consequence of this strategy, which has damaged both communities and confidence. Taxation decisions should be budget decisions, with both sides of the equation -- what are the spending priorities and how much money is available to spend -- being considered at the same time.
A large portion of the Liberal tax cut has already been taken back in the form of increased sales and fuel taxes and increased fees. Good tax policy consists of achieving a fair distribution of the overall tax burden, based on ability to pay and consistent with the intended mix of economic incentives and disincentives. It requires analysis and evidence, not ideology and slogans.
Under funding today which creates a need for greater spending tomorrow is no more financially responsible, and is often less responsible, than borrowing money and running a temporary deficit. Selling-off long-lived assets to finance current program spending is no different than borrowing money to fund that spending. Under funding such services as primary child protection will never be fiscally responsible in the long run. The goal of achieving a balanced budget is a sound one, but should not be realized in a way which simply creates a larger fiscal and social deficit in the future.
Annual spending on necessary public infra-structure – roads, bridges, public transportation, schools, hospitals, sewage and water systems – should be returned to levels which are equivalent to annual rates of depreciation. Over time, under-investing in infra-structure is a form of dis-saving, no different than borrowing money.
The health care crisis of the past decade has clarified one very simple point – by a massive majority, Canadians are fundamentally committed to a comprehensive public health care system. The Romanow Commission has set out a blue-print for achieving this. Managing the health care system, and validating the faith British Columbians have that a well-managed and affordable public health care system is achievable, will remain the number one task of the provincial government.
Support for families
Social assistance in British Columbia has been radically altered by the Campbell government during a period of weak economic performance. The implications of these unprecedented changes, most notably the 2 year benefit cutoff, are not yet fully apparent, but are likely to create a social disaster if implemented as planned. Restoring basic principles of fairness and realism – understanding the real issues facing people – to the design and administration of social assistance programs must be a first order priority for a new government.
The province should also continue to work with the federal government to utilize the tax system and federal programs to provide income support. Employment Insurance benefits which, for example, restrict medical EI to 15 weeks, need to be improved. The leadership role taken by the NDP government in improving the national child benefit system is an important, though often under-acknowledged, example of the valuable results that can result from the intelligent collaboration between different levels of government. The province should also find ways to work more closely with local governments to improve the effectiveness of basic social support and housing programs.
The reorganization and reduced funding of Child Protection services is a Liberal government policy experiment that many are watching nervously. Ensuring that child protection services are as effective as possible, and that adequate funds are available to do the job required, must also be a first order priority for a new government.
Legal aid, day care assistance and related programs have all been badly undermined by the Liberal government. All these program areas will deserve the immediate attention of a new government.
At the same time income support programs have been undermined, the Liberal government has seen fit to make entry level employment less rewarding. The introduction of the $6 per hour training wage discriminates against both young job seekers and against older workers who may be competing for the same job. The training wage is unfair, has had no discernable impact on youth unemployment, and should be eliminated as soon as possible.
Recent changes to employment standards legislation seem to be designed more to make life difficult for workers than to improve employment opportunities or produce an economic benefit. Strengthening employment standards legislation to protect the rights of workers who do not have the benefit of a collective agreement should be a high priority.
Changes to the Labour Code should be made using the precedent of the Harcourt government of appointing an expert panel to widely consult and bring forward comprehensive recommendations.
Please send comments on the Campaign for Change policy working papers to [email protected] before