04/20/2017 04:25 EDT | Updated 04/20/2017 04:32 EDT

Projecting Economic Competence Never Was B.C. NDP's Strong Suit

First came John Horgan leering at Christy Clark in the first B.C. Campaign 2017 debate: "I'll watch you for a while. I know you like that."

That leering, creepy, condescending remark is a Kim Campbell Week One Level disaster, folks. Horgan -- sounding rather like Groper-in-Chief Donald Trump -- is going to be hearing about that one for a long, long time.

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B.C. NDP Leaders John Horgan. (Photo: CP)

And then came the B.C. NDP economic plan. Ouch.

A bit of history, first.

"The trouble with socialists," Tommy Douglas once said, and he would know, "is that they let their bleeding hearts go to their bloody heads."

Douglas, of course, was and is the patron saint of Canada's New Democrats, and rightly so. He was widely admired. He wasn't perfect, of course, and no politician ever is. But Tommy Douglas knew something about budgeting.

For example: did you know that, during his 17 years as Saskatchewan premier, Douglas never ran a deficit? It's true. Not once. And, during all of that time, Douglas would also routinely dedicate 10 per cent of government revenues to paying down the debt. Douglas felt that too much debt -- financial holes, in effect -- put social programs and government services in peril.

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NDP's Tommy Douglas on his fourth campaign. (Photo: Barry Philp/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Tommy Douglas isn't still around to comment on the platform of B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan, of course. But if he was, one suspects that he wouldn't be terribly impressed. Douglas might even be unhappy to hear about the $6.5-billion hole at the centre of the B.C. NDP's plan for governing.

No exaggeration: $6.5 billion.

The yawning, gaping hole alleged to be at the centre of the B.C. NDP's platform was detailed this week by the governing B.C. Liberals -- who, love 'em or hate 'em, are the architects of five balanced budgets and oversee the strongest economy in Canada. The Dipper Hole is apparently the product of an analysis of more than four fiscal years. In sum, the B.C. Liberal number-crunchers calculated there were 14 serious errors in the NDP's math -- along with a failure to account for interest costs on increased spending levels.

The improperly costed promises relate to freezing a variety of interest rates, promises made to postsecondary students, and the provincial Medical Services Plan.


The $6.5-billion mistake, it should be noted, does not include assumptions the B.C. NDP made about revenue assumptions or another three dozen or so uncosted promises. The Liberals also left out of their analysis the province's credit rating. But they still came up with that astonishing $6.5-billion figure.

That sort of thing happens a lot in B.C. We've all seen this movie before.

So what, one might say. An election is underway in British Columbia, and it's a tight one. The B.C. Liberals aren't ever going to say nice things about the B.C. NDP, and vice-versa.

What is noteworthy, then -- what suggests the B.C. Liberals are highly confident about the $6.5-billion figure -- is threefold. One, it is a simply gargantuan number. It is hard to imagine any sensible political party making such a claim without verifying it, re-verifying it, many times over. Two, the B.C. Liberals have retained two respected economists, Scott Clark and Peter Devries, to do a further review. They wouldn't have done that if they didn't have faith in their analysis.

Thirdly, there's precedent. In focus groups conducted from sea to sea to sea, since time immemorial, voters will always express doubt about the ability of New Democrats to balance budgets and add up columns of figures.

And as political historians will note, that sort of thing happens a lot in B.C. We've all seen this movie before.

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Adrian Dix, then the B.C. NDP's leader, during a campaign stop in Richmond, British Columbia May 7, 2013. (Photo: Andy Clark/Reuters)

In 2013, for instance, the B.C. NDP actually investigated itself as it tried to understand why it had lost an election that had seen them as many as 20 points ahead of their main rivals. A big part of the problem, the B.C. NDP concluded in confidential report, was what the party had to say to British Columbians about the economy.

"[NDP] governments in Saskatchewan and Manitoba defeat populist right-wing opponents by being -- and being seen to be -- more competent than our opponent on core fiscal and economic issues, as well as more caring about them," the report concluded. "That is what we tried to do in 2013 in B.C. We didn't succeed. Our opponent was out every day on a single issue -- jobs and the economy. We were attempting to reassure voters we could be trusted with a mandate by spelling out dozens of proposals. We could see within a few days that this wasn't working."

Before that, in 2009, with yet another leader, the B.C. NDP again misfired on the economy, speedily sprinting away from its main economic promise. And, as respected columnist Vaughn Palmer wrote in the Vancouver Sun: "When the party released its platform, the vow to get rid of the carbon tax topped the list of highlights. But the NDP downgraded the "axe the tax" drive after it provoked a backlash from some environmental leaders."

And so on and so on. The B.C. NDP may have many strengths. But for more than a decade, projecting economic competence has not been one of them. In election after election, the B.C. NDP either get their projections wrong -- or they abandon their economic promises, mid-writ. Either way, it does not engender confidence.

Tommy Douglas, among others, would not be impressed. Even a New Democrat, he believed, needs to able to say how he or she will pay the bills.

British Columbian hearts, bleeding or otherwise, would tend to agree.

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