Paying to be Green

By Charles Lammam and Hugh MacIntyre

The power-sharing deal struck by the New Democratic Party and Green Party means British Columbians could soon see an NDP minority government propped up by the Greens.

But if NDP Leader John Horgan becomes premier, the deal with Andrew Weaver's Greens would commit the NDP to policies and government spending that was not part of the NDP's election platform.

Under these circumstances, will a Horgan-led government keep the NDP's election promise to balance the budget and, if so, how?

On election day, more than 80 per cent of B.C. voters supported political parties (the Liberals and NDP) that promised consistent balanced budgets. The Greens are the only party that didn't commit to balancing the budget every year while in power.

But the initiatives outlined in the NDP-Green deal - including new spending initiatives - suggest British Columbians could be in store for budget deficits.

The deal doesn't provide details on how much the new policy commitments will cost. However, some of these policies come straight out of the Green Party platform, which contains cost estimates of the initiatives.

For example, the agreement commits a Horgan-led government to hiring new government workers. The Green Party's platform puts the cost of increased staffing at public care homes (nursing homes, for example) at $200 million over four years, and projected $100 million for additional social workers. Other new initiatives - a work experience program for students and skills training for some displaced workers - would cost more than $100 million over four years.

This new spending alone would put the NDP's balanced budget pledge at risk. But there's more. The NDP-Green deal calls for a basic income pilot similar to the one happening in Ontario. (The Ontario version costs $50 million annually.)

Additional spending increases will be needed for other new commitments made by the NDP in their pact with the Greens, including the creation of an essential prescription drugs program, an innovation commission and a new task force on the economy. According to the agreement, the budget for the latter two initiatives will be decided jointly between the NDP and Greens at a later date.

To pay for the new spending required to gain support from the Greens, a Horgan-led government would either have to cut other spending, raise taxes or run a deficit.

However, the uncertainty - particularly from the potential for higher taxes - will undermine the province's attractiveness as a place to do business.

If a Horgan-led government decides to raise taxes to pay for new spending to appease the Greens, it will come on top of economically-damaging tax increases (including personal, business and carbon tax hikes) already proposed in the NDP platform.

Running a deficit and increasing government debt would also be problematic. A deficit today is nothing more than a tax that must be paid by taxpayers in the future.

Adding debt will leave businesses and households uncertain about future tax hikes, and that uncertainty impedes investment and entrepreneurship today. Increased government debt can also lead to higher debt interest payments, which will take away resources from the public programs that British Columbians value.

To alleviate some of the uncertainty in what has become an uncertain time in B.C., and to inform British Columbians wondering about the future, the NDP should clarify whether it remains committed to a balanced budget and how it intends to pay for its deal with the Green Party.

Charles Lammam is director of fiscal studies and Hugh MacIntyre is policy analyst at the Fraser Institute.

– Troy Media


Who has biggest tent?

By Ian Holliday

There is a conventional wisdom in Canadian politics that the Liberal Party – flanked on both sides of the political spectrum by more ideological parties – is better able to “find the centre” and appeal to more voters.The history of elections in this country, with its long periods of Liberal government, suggests there is some truth to this assessment.

Ask Canadians about their willingness to consider each of the three main parties, however – as the Angus Reid Institute did just last month – and it becomes clear that there’s less of a “big tent” advantage for the Liberals than might be expected.

The percentage of Canadians who rule out even considering casting a ballot for each party is remarkably consistent. Ranging from a low of 37 per cent who say they would “definitely not consider” the Liberals to a high of 40 per cent who say the same about the New Democratic Party. The percentage who would never consider voting Conservative? 39 per cent.

These totals are all within the margin of error of each other. In other words, each party has roughly two-in-five Canadians who say they won’t even consider it.

The inverse of each of these numbers could be described as each party’s “consideration set” – the people who say they would be open to voting for the party in the future.

For each party, the total consideration set is roughly 60 per cent of Canadians. Though, as the following graph illustrates, there’s a big difference between those who say they might think about voting for a party and those who are hardcore supporters.

The darkest party colours in the graph are those who say they “definitely” will support the party in a future election. The lighter colours are, from left to right, those who say they will “certainly consider” the party, and those who say they will “maybe consider” the party. (Data in the graph comes from ARI’s June 1 report: “As Conservative leader, Scheer must balance core voters’ values with party’s need for growth”)

By this measure, the Conservative and Liberal parties each have a very similar make-up, with a committed core of slightly fewer than one-in-six Canadians. While the Liberals have slightly more people who would “certainly consider” them, while the Conservatives have slightly more people who would “maybe consider” them.

The NDP, by contrast, has a committed base less than half the size of those of the other parties.

– Ian Holliday is a research associate with the Angus Reid Institute.

Not all votes created equal

By Dermod Travis

Elections have two key components: the race and the mechanics – the legislative process and administration of the vote.

The race gets the media coverage, not so much the mechanics, even though it can have far more impact on the results than many might imagine.

The number of registered voters didn't get much attention during the campaign. In April, there were 3,156,991. Notable because it's 19,464 voters less than there were in 2013. 

Using data provided by Elections Canada, roughly 40,000 voters were purged from the list in 2016, according to Elections B.C.

"In December 2016, we processed a file of records of voters whose address on the (national list) changed from within B.C. to outside B.C. 

"We removed approximately 40,000 voters. We believe this process, which was not performed in the lead-up to the 2013 general election, improved the overall accuracy of the voters list."

Something else of note about the race was how remarkably efficient the B.C. Liberal party's vote was.

The party only needed 170,234 votes – 21 per cent of their 796,672 total – to lock up 20 ridings, nearly half of their seats. The Liberals put 10 into their column with 69,857 votes. 

After every other election, B.C.'s electoral boundaries commission goes into action to ensure the electoral map meets a relative parity between riding size and number of voters.

According to its 2007 report, “B.C. is among the group of jurisdictions that gives their commissions the greatest latitude, adopting a plus or minus 25 percent deviation limit.” 

In 2014, the commission was given its marching orders by the B.C. government: two new seats could be added to the existing 85, but 17 hand-picked ridings had to be protected.

At the end of the day, the 17 first-class ridings had an average of 25,382 voters and the 70 second-class an average of 38,935.

Stitkine has the lowest number of voters at 13,240 and Vernon-Monashee the highest with 47,373. Vernon-Monashee would need three MLAs to come close to matching the weight of Stitkine's clout in the legislature.

Using the April voters list, the 25 per cent rule would see Nelson-Creston with 27,338 registered voters on one end, Parksville-Qualicum (44,743) on the other and 68 in between.

Seventeen ridings overshoot the 25 per cent deviation, but only 10 are among the 17 “protected” ridings.

Since land mass is part of the special circumstances test, let's see how much it mattered in the government's selection. The 17 first-class ridings range from 2,437 to 196,446 square kilometres, but nine other ridings are within that range. Can't be size. 

Perhaps it's the number of voters? The 17 range from 13,240 to 42,054 voters, but 54 ridings fit within that spread. Can't be voters. 

How did the 17 ridings vote? Thirteen went for the Liberals – representing 30 per cent of their total seats – and four went to the NDP.

Under the Liberals, the number of protected ridings has nearly tripled from six in 2001 to 17 today.

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.


The Goldilocks election

By Dermod Travis

It was a pretty safe bet going into election night that regardless of how the vote broke there were four words from Premier Christy Clark's 2013 victory speech which would be left unsaid this year: “Well, that was easy.”

Something else telling between Clark's two speeches?

In 2013, it fell on then-NDP leader Adrian Dix to deliver that oft-cited line by political runner-ups: “Elections belong to the voters, and the voters decided.”

This time it fell to Clark, as she acknowledged the verdict: “Voters always know best.”

Pending a massive shift among the absentee ballots, Clark's B.C. Liberal party may have scored its lowest share of the popular vote since 1991.

The NDP's vote has gone up by 1,414 so far, but they'll add to that with the final count. It remains to be seen whether they'll crack a 40 per cent share of the popular vote, though, a feat the party hasn't achieved since 2009.

The Green party doubled its vote count and its share of the vote.

The tallies give you a sense there was a slice of the electorate less than thrilled with the choices before them. Call them the Goldilocks voters.

Some found one party too hot, another party too cold and a few found one party just right.

For the non-hyper-partisans out there, the results may be ideal: rebuke Clark, give the NDP a chance to prove their mettle before possibly handing over the keys, and ensure a strong third-party voice in the legislature.

This was a campaign that didn't come with a single game changer, but rather a litany of issues and events that reached a tipping point for some voters. The ones that decide elections.

Memo for the Liberal party war room: the public cares.

Clark – who once said "we all say things to get elected" – decided to prove it for the Goldilocks' voters. 

When Clark ran into an actual voter who hadn't been previously pre-screened by campaign organizers, the resulting #IamLinda hashtag may have created more buzz on the campaign trail, but it wasn't the more telling moment.

That moment came during the leaders debate when Clark tried to deflect the moderator's question on various controversies and scandals surrounding her leadership.

The Liberals won just over 40 per cent of the popular vote and may want to consider that 'trust thing' as they conduct their election post-mortem.

Parties that won a slice of the Goldilocks vote would be well advised to heed the ending of the fairy tale: “Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. She screamed, "Help!"

– Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC.

Pipeline to political disaster?

By Doug Firby

Few issues in recent Canadian history have been as divisive as the debate over the construction of new oil pipelines. The uncertain results from the election in British Columbia only add fuel to a roaring fire.

The "blue" Liberal government of Premier Christy Clark won the most seats in the May 9 vote, but not a majority. Her party must now court the support of either the New Democratic or Green parties to achieve a mandate to govern.

Should the Liberals fail to reach an agreement, it's conceivable the NDP and Greens could combine to form government. For proponents of twinning Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline, either scenario provides ample reason to lose sleep.

Clark, you may recall, played tough in her opposition to having a pipeline carry diluted Alberta bitumen across B.C. for shipment to Asian markets. A lot of watchers felt her theatrics were orchestrated so B.C. could extract the largest amount of compensation from its neighbour to the east.

As if to confirm those suspicions, and almost on cue, Clark announced the five conditions she had spelled out for provincial acceptance of the pipeline had been met. Signs pointed to a green light for the $7.4-billion project.

It was an audacious standoff, considering pipeline approvals rest in the hands of federal authorities, not provincial. But Clark knew that, regardless of the jurisdictional parsing, environmentalists and First Nations communities in B.C. are ready to fight to the finish to stop Trans Mountain.

The NDP and Greens aren't ready to roll over on the pipeline. Both parties are fiercely opposed to it, regardless of the boost it would add to both provincial and federal economies.

Clark now faces a very awkward dilemma. It seems almost certain that either opposition party will demand resistance to Trans Mountain as a condition for the co-operation needed for the Liberals to form government. If Clark doesn't play along, her party's days in government will be very short indeed.

Sensing that Clark needs a hand, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke out this week, reminding B.C. politicians that pipeline approvals are federal business. She told reporters, "I fundamentally disagree with the view that one province or even one region can hold hostage the economy of another province or, in this case, the economy of our entire country."

In principle, Notley is absolutely correct. Unfortunately, it's not an argument that's likely to sway pipeline opponents.

The irony in all this fuss is that Trudeau effectively gave succour to the opposition leading up to the last federal election when he promised his government would listen to the wishes of British Columbians. If he were really listening, the message is clear enough: on balance, most citizens of B.C. want the pipeline stopped.

Of course, in this case a federal government that bends to the will of one province betrays the wishes of another. Either way, somebody is going to hate you.

Doug Firby is president of Troy Media Digital Solutions and publisher of Troy Media.

– Troy Media

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