"You can't put feathers on a dog and call it a chicken," TV's Dr. Phil once opined. B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Finance Minister Mike de Jong would do well to remember that advice as they prepare what could be their government's final budget.
In recent months, we've seen several dogs running around with feathers stuck on them while pretending to cluck.
One week, there's a hiring freeze in the provincial government. The next, three new staffers show up in the premier's office.
One week, there's belt-tightening and austerity being preached. The next, the advertising budget is revealed to have swelled to $64 million over the two years since the new premier took over double what the old boss spent.
One week, no itemized bills can be found for the controversial $6 million Dave Basi-Bob Virk payout. The next, a government lawyer admits to finding them.
One week, government is so close to announcing a $40 million B.C. Place naming deal with Telus that the company has gone out and ordered signage. The next, government cancels the deal.
One week, taxpayers are promised they will get MLA expense receipts posted online. The next, the B.C. Liberals and NDP scrap that plan and post lump sums with no details instead.
On budget day, the deficit was announced at $968 million. At the first quarterly report announcement several months later, it ballooned to $1.14 billion. And three months after that, at the second quarterly report, it's up to $1.47 billion.
One week, we hear from the premier that every $10,000 matters when it comes to balancing the budget. The next, we see her government plans to spend $1.5 million for Family Day parties, timed just three months before the election.
One year, we hear from the government about our low tax burden. The next, the former premier's chief of staff talks candidly about how government is "raising fees, licenses, premiums, penalties, levies, utility rates, tolls and other hidden forms of taxes," and "deferring tax burdens to future generations through debt, deferral accounts and public-private partnerships."
One year, we hear how government's Pacific Carbon Trust will "foster economic growth from new opportunities... [by attracting] offset purchases from private citizens, companies and other governments alike." Four years later, we see the trust sells 99.7 per cent of its carbon credits by forcing hospitals, schools and other taxpayer-funded organizations to buy them.
Trust must be the cornerstone of the relationship between a government and its taxpayers. Every year, we hand over our hard-earned money a bank account worth $42 billion to our politicians. We expect them to run our affairs professionally and efficiently and to keep us well-informed on their plans.
When that trust erodes, it's very difficult for government to earn it back. But it can be done, if Clark and de Jong are willing to change their behaviour.
Balance the budget next year with conservative revenue estimates. Scrap the Pacific Carbon Trust. Beg Telus to take the naming rights to B.C. Place Stadium. Release all expense receipts and the details the auditor general wants on Basi-Virk. Cancel the Family Day parties, the big ad buys and have a real hiring freeze. Make the Medical Services Premium health care tax fair or scrap it all together.
B.C. taxpayers are six months away from rendering an electoral verdict on this government's performance. The chickens or at least the dogs dressed up like chickens are about to come home to roost.