Finance Minister Mike de Jong should be good with numbers. Two of them loom large: Eight – the months left until the election; and, zero – the Liberals’ chances of victory unless they quickly demonstrate leadership.
So, what does it take to signal he can do the math? How about a fiscal agenda that adds up? In its current poll Angus Reid asked voters to rank government issues. Twenty-seven per cent said the economy was most important, up two percentage points in a month. The next most important issue was health care at 17 per cent, down three points in a month. Then came leadership at 14 points, up two.
Way at the bottom, in the one to seven per cent range, came all those “families first” issues that Premier Christy Clark has touted such as tax relief, poverty, education, crime, housing, day care and homelessness. De Jong has launched a wave of belt tightening including an immediate hiring freeze across government and a wage freeze for public sector managers including those in schools, universities and health organizations. He also hinted that he will tighten the screws in the negotiations with public sector unions and possibly hike corporate taxes.
There are critical elements of de Jong’s agenda that simply don’t add up. First, most armchair economists would agree that during tough economic times the job of government is to help the economy expand. You don’t accomplish that by cutting back on government’s ability to stimulate the economy. And you certainly don’t do it on the backs of the business sector which is responsible for growth and investment.
Second, Premier Clark’s families-first banner is hanging at half mast. Voters – like those polled – have not bought into the proposition that tax relief, poverty, education, crime, housing, day care, and homelessness trumps the health of the over-arching economy. Clearly they believe government should facilitate economic wellbeing first and let the family first benefits flow as a consequence.
The Liberals’ zeal to balance the books and tighten the screws is wrong. They should do the math – eight times zero equals zero.