Clark’s Bind Writ Large in Binders

Premier-elect’s honeymoon is over before it begins

Premier-elect’s honeymoon is over before it begins

As premier-elect Christy Clark leafs through stacks of government briefing binders this week, she is almost certainly having profanity-spiced moments as she begins to fully appreciate the hand she has been dealt by Gordon Campbell.I suspect the binders are telling Clark that her agenda for change must begin with an agenda of reconstruction. She is discovering that the retiring premier has left, in his disruptive wake, a government in cardiac arrest.Clark is also discovering — after more than 200 idle days during which the Legislature has been vacant and no legislation has been passed into law — that the public’s business has been largely entrusted to faceless bureaucrats who have a vested interest in the status quo.Clark’s new reality reminds me of the general paralysis that afflicts government in the run up to a provincial election. For months ahead of the vote, and for many weeks following, our politicians put governance on the back burner and focus exclusively on protecting their political backsides.In this environment, the evolution of policy across a wide spectrum of public interests is rendered comatose. Initiatives requiring statute amendments whither in the back rooms and miss the window of opportunity for legislation drafting. Programs that have a spending component are not made ready for processing during the pressurized period of budget drafting.A similar state of affairs was evident in Victoria well before the day last fall when Campbell announced his very long goodbye. And, it has worsened since.The poli-wags and pundits, who believe the empress has no clothes, will likely portray this vacuum of governmental stewardship as a clean slate upon which Clark can attempt her magic.Not quite. There’s more to the Campbell administrative legacy than a black hole that can be paved over with campaign promises and good intentions. There’s an added bonus . . . inter-ministry upheaval exacerbated by Campbell’s attempt to save his bacon in the eleventh hour with a woefully convoluted and completely unnecessary cabinet shuffle that threw several key ministries into an organizational tail spin. The cost of this needless shuffle has been astronomical and the subsequent administrative Gordian Knot will take many more millions of precious budget dollars to unravel.There is also the matter of the preliminary 2011/12 Provincial Budget introduced last month. It was positioned as a stop gap budget that meets “statutory requirements while providing maximum flexibility for future decisions by the new executive council (Clark and her cabinet).” It allowed the government to introduce an interim supply bill to finance its activities for the first three months of 2011/12.However, a cornerstone of the budget, the Three-Year Fiscal Plan, was a template for future debt that the document’s bureaucrat authors anticipated would endure regardless of who is at the political helm. The plan predicts we will grow our accumulated debt from $47.7 billion in 2010 to a staggering $60.3 billion in 2013.  Unchanged, this projection threatens to undermine the credibility of Clark’s promise to quickly transition away from annual budget deficits. Many budget analysts agree that the promise of a budget surplus in any given year is a fiscal sham when the province’s accumulated debt grows by more than $1 billion in the same year.To curb the accumulated debt requires some particularly hard decisions about pending capital projects. And, those decisions become politically onerous the closer one gets to a general election.Further, Clark has been saddled with the daunting job of reigning in two rogue government appendages — BC Hydro and BC Ferries. This pair has been having a field day in the current political vacuum with threats of huge rate increases.Clark knows that her “families” agenda will quickly stall if she allows these corporations to raid family pocketbooks with rate increases in the range of 50 per cent. Of the two, BC Hydro is her most pressing challenge. Besides rate hikes, the corporation is pressing ahead with the Site C Dam, even though the budget for the Peace River mega-project is escalating from the original $6 billion to closer to $12 billion.Clark never needed to be warned that her second political honeymoon would be short lived. But, I’m not sure she realized that her new marriage would be this challenging this quickly. MFollow The Kieran Report at briankieran.com.

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