"There is no such thing as free regulation," John Hutton once said, and the British author was right. Every rule set out by government comes with a price -- both to individual freedom and to taxpayers' wallets. Sometimes, the regulation is worth the loss of freedom or the cost. Few begrudge spending tax dollars or the loss of freedom to have the Auditor General review the province's books. But when government attempts to solve a problem that appears to be overblown, regulation becomes expensive and unnecessary.
The carbon tax lobby was practically giddy this month, as newspaper headlines touting a B.C. climate change agreement with three U.S. states blared, "Washington and Oregon follow B.C.'s lead on carbon tax system," and "Washington, Oregon plan to emulate B.C.'s carbon tax." Fortunately for American taxpayers, the headlines just aren't true.
If TransLink is as broke as it claims to be, why are taxpayers so grossly overpaying its chief executive officer? Ian Jarvis received $394,730 in salary, incentives and taxable benefits in 2012, plus another $32,552 in taxpayer-funded petition contributions. On top of that, Jarvis took $11,418 in "other" benefits, including a "Wellness Allowance" that apparently only the CEO is eligible for. That's a total compensation package of $438,700. Jarvis made $140,000 more last year than the province's deputy transportation minister, Grant Main. He made $200,000 more than Premier Christy Clark. Clark wasn't alone; Jarvis out earned Prime Minister Stephen Harper by nearly $75,000.
Whether BC Liberal or NDP, governments have grown reliant on the cash flowing from ICBC and BC Hydro ratepayers. Any suggestion of reduction is met with ministerial shrugs and the talking point: "How would we fund health and other services without that money? Should we raise taxes?" Yet, the ignored solution can be found in another cliché: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Giving TransLink more tax dollars is like giving a pyromaniac a fresh box of matches. Both will eventually run out and keep coming back for more -- unless they change their ways. TransLink's executive vice-president Bob Paddon, he of the $307,857 annual pay, claims his operation is an "efficient and well-run organization." The facts prove otherwise. TransLink is a rat's nest of redundancy and waste.
Don't hold your breath hoping mayors and councillors will come home from this month's Union of B.C. Municipalities conference with a stack of cost-saving ideas and strategies. In 2011, cities in B.C. combined to bring in $7.87 billion in revenue. Regional districts added another $1.6 billion. Throw in TransLink and its $1.3 billion and you have a combined annual budget of $10.77 billion to run everything from Abbotsford to Zeballos. To put that into perspective, if local government were a provincial government ministry, it would be bigger than anything except health, and more than double the size of education.
When was the last time you called in sick? Was it just a case of the sniffles? Were you flat on your back? Or did you go golfing and not want to use a vacation day? Did you feel guilty about leaving your co-workers to cover for you? Did you take as few days as possible, knowing someone else had to pick up the slack in your absence? Chances are if you work in the private sector, your answers are very different from those of some government employees.
At TransLink, the inmates are now running the asylum. With such little support from taxpayers, riders, mayors, the minister and the board chair, TransLink's push for a $23 billion tax-and-spend binge is coming from its senior executive team. They are making media appearances and desperately trying to push for higher taxes. It will be up to the taxpayers to take the keys away from the transportation authority's senior executives
Taxpayers and watchdogs often focus their attention on the top of the government salary spectrum. Government executives are increasingly overpaid, especially at the municipal and regional district level. But it's not just the top end that is out of control. Taxpayers are overpaying for labour throughout the system.
B.C. has seen umpteen reviews of various government agencies and files. BC Hydro, ICBC, BC Ferries and TransLink have all been reviewed within the past two years. Reviews have been promised for the B.C. Lottery Corporation, B.C. Housing, the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, B.C. Transit, and the Liquor Distribution Board. Pre-election, the NDP generated a list of 35 reviews had been promised by the government. One hesitates to remind government of these promised reviews, lest a review into the missing reviews also be promised.
Think of it as an electoral echo. While many British Columbians are just getting over the election hangover from May's blockbuster BC Liberal comeback win, 13 municipalities are about to head into by-election mode. Four mayors and 10 councillors from 13 different communities were elected May 14th. A dozen BC Liberals, two New Democrats: all will need to be replaced in the coming weeks, triggering a series of expensive by-elections.
in Canada's Equalization program, "have" provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan send billions of dollars to Ottawa that are in turn handed to chronic overspending "have-nots" like Quebec. It creates a system where the reward for prudent fiscal management is bailing out those who couldn't care less. In other words, we in B.C. pay so they can play.
Voters want to know where their potential leaders stand before they have to walk into a polling station and put a tick next to a party's name. While it's impossible for anyone to fully anticipate and articulate every possible challenge and scenario ahead of a four-year term in office, taxpayers want a predictable pattern set out. Political leaders should be able to change their mind as circumstances change, but nothing had changed about asset sales or Kinder Morgan.
I wish we could call a "time out" for politicians. Wouldn't it be great if we could send them to some dark room in Parliament and make them think about what they're doing? I'm talking about the tax you pay on your RRSP and all other types of investment accounts. Tax on TFSAs, RESPs and RDSPs. Yes, you're reading this correctly.
What if a public company gave one set of sales numbers to its board of directors, another to its shareholders, and a third to its auditors? Would you feel comfortable entrusting the executive of this company with a $29.6 million investment? Incredibly, that's precisely what has happened with the Transit Police.
The idea of a fat or sugar tax in British Columbia continues to pop up like the pesky mole in that old midway game. Unfortunately, it's taxpayers -- and the provincial economy -- that would get whacked by such a tax. Supporters of such a flawed taxation policy should look to Denmark's experience for a textbook example of why it doesn't work.
When Christy Clark took over as premier of British Columbia two years ago, she had a window of opportunity to change taxpayers' perceptions of her government. To improve her chances in the 2013 election, Clark needed to throw out unpopular and unworkable ideas brought in by her predecessor Gordon Campbell. In a symbolic way, she needed to string a huge banner over the B.C. Legislature that said, "Under New Management."