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The Devastating Opportunity Costs Of B.C.'s 'Balanced Budget'

02/25/2016 02:22 EST | Updated 02/25/2017 05:12 EST
DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

When Premier Clark decided that pets living in B.C. were vulnerable and needed protection, did anyone in her cabinet mention her "families first" promise during her last election campaign?

I have a friend who is so poor that sometimes he will buy one can of tuna so that both he and his cat can eat. He's not the only B.C. citizen trying to make the most of extremely limited resources. He certainly considers himself luckier than those who sometimes can only afford to eat pet food.

Choices that many families in this province have to make daily are heart wrenching. Food or hydro. Rent or MSP premium. Winter boots or a winter coat. Families living in poverty don't have the option of choosing both.

But those whom we elect to be in charge of our public funds have far more options which is why it's quite mind-boggling to see some of the choices they make.

It's hard to makes sense of the $100 million deposit into the "prosperity fund" at the same time that the education budget is being eviscerated: $5.1 billion only sounds like a lot of money until you realize that $4.1 billion has been cut from the budget since the B.C. Liberals came into office in 2001.

Why is there $514 million for BC Place stadium's roof, and yet there are schools with leaky roofs, mould, rat infestations and water in which fish eggs die?

Why is there $100 million to help pulp mills to upgrade buildings for energy conservation, and yet no money for seismic upgrades in schools?

Whenever families create household budgets we have to make choices based on our family priorities. Spending on a trip to Disneyland is less important than saving for college. Spending money on groceries is prioritized over spending money on eating out. Families well understand the basic premise of budgeting: choosing to spend your money on one thing means that you lose the opportunity to spend it somewhere else.

The latest B.C. government ads tell us that with the B.C. Liberals, we will have lots of opportunities, but at what cost? The 2016 budget made sure that the government would have the opportunity to create many glowing ads now that the budget for such communications has been increased by 43 per cent to $37.9 million. What opportunities would school districts have to change the lives of children in this province with that kind of money?

It's difficult to get them to see that a balanced budget is a myth after three decades of so many pundits and politicians telling them otherwise.

But government budgets are nothing like family budgets. Families can't "print money" as governments can. (The financial term for it is quantitative easing.) Families cannot change laws to benefit themselves and their budgets. Families also have no control over the value of a dollar.

In fact a family's budget has little in common with a government's budget and yet a whole succession of governments have successfully persuaded the public that in order for a government to balance its budget, it is necessary that some people suffer.

People, who I know to be kind and caring, will say that it's unfortunate that schools need more funding but it's more important that the budget be balanced. They think that balancing the budget is a higher priority than providing people on disability with bus passes. And, even though they agree that it's sad that one in five children is living in poverty, they believe that nothing can be done because the budget needs to be balanced.

It's difficult to get them to see that a balanced budget is a myth after three decades of so many pundits and politicians telling them otherwise. It's understandable that most people who watch the nightly news would have no idea that having so many people living in poverty costs more money than it would cost to ensure people were not stuck in a poverty cycle.

The latest B.C. Liberal government ads are right about one thing. B.C. does have an opportunity to create a more prosperous future. All it will cost is the election of a new government. One that will not only protect pets but children living in poverty too.

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