Austerity measures in our future?

It’s hard to watch the images of the rioting in Greece and not feel like I’m watching a rerun of the Canucks riot in Vancouver; the images of riot-gear-clad police fighting against mostly young people involved in damaging public and private property are eerily similar.

It’s hard to watch the images of the rioting in Greece and not feel like I’m watching a rerun of the Canucks riot in Vancouver; the images of riot-gear-clad police fighting against mostly young people involved in damaging public and private property are eerily similar.

Of course, the reasons for the two riots are as far apart as Vancouver is from Athens geographically — for now. I say for now as I’m deeply concerned that, like the people of Greece, we’re simply not paying enough attention to the state of our province’s finances.

I fear that one day we may wake up to Greek-like austerity measures being taken by our government, which will cause our young people to take to the streets for a more meaningful reason than the loss of a hockey game. B.C. is facing many more years of deficit financing and significant increases in public and private debt loads.

Regardless which party wins the next election, it will be impossible for any government to meet the legal requirement to balance B.C.’s books by 2013/14 without either raising taxes or gutting public spending, or both. In a letter prefacing this year’s budget, the deputy minister states the government projected a balanced budget for 2013/14 by assuming annual spending growth will not exceed an average of  two per cent over the three years of the fiscal plan; an assumption that “is below actual historic spending growth levels.”

This assumption includes zero per cent wage increases for teachers and other public sector contracts that will expire over the next few years.

It presumes reductions in social service demands and minimal spending on natural disasters and forest fires.

It does not take into account rapidly increasing inflation, the likelihood of increased interest rates, or the rapid deterioration of our infrastructure. It doesn’t address the costly implications of an ageing population and the poor health of our youth population.

The current budget is unrealistic; there is no way B.C.’s books will be balanced by 2013/14.  Once we’re no longer distracted by the HST debate, I hope we’ll engage in a real debate about the state of B.C.’s finances — without the partisan rhetoric that political parties bring to the table.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.

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