Pay attention, everyone. The pressure is on Premier Christy Clark to produce a budget that makes a difference. But the premier needs to find three things to make it a budget worth reading: credibility, truth and integrity.
Those are important elements in any budget, but for the BC Liberals they have been "missing in action" in every budget they have tabled since taking office in 2001.
A brief recap of BC Liberal fiscal folly is needed to understand just how desperate the government caucus is feeling these days.
In its first term, its favourite fiscal one-two punch was to talk up the importance of tax cuts while viciously purging public services and selling public assets. The initial tax cut produced a $2 billion hole in the provincial treasury.
The BC Liberals touted their tax cut strategy as self-financing; the tax cuts "will pay for themselves," said then-premier Gordon Campbell. It was a strategy that continued on for 12 difficult years.
Meanwhile at the cabinet table, ministers, including then Education Minister Christy Clark, had to wield the axe in their ministries to ensure fiscal balance. Over the last 12 years, 197 schools were closed as part of that fiscal purge, and that was just the damage done in B.C.'s K-12 system.
Every other ministry has similarly grim stories to tell.
What is so astounding through all of this is that when it comes to the right wing's balanced budget mantra, the BC Liberal's track record has been a terrible failure.
By their own measure, the BC Liberals have been a train wreck when it comes to fiscal management.
They have run budget deficits in seven out of 12 budgets that they have tabled since 2001 – hardly the stuff of fiscal legend and certainly one of the major reasons why the February 2013 budget has a huge credibility problem even before it's tabled.
However, their biggest fiscal gaff and credibility crusher was the HST. What legitimately incensed voters about HST was the duplicity that preceded it and the fumbling efforts to amend and retreat once voter outrage reached a fever pitch.
Voters were told in May 2009 that HST was not on the horizon and the budget deficit would not surpass $495 million. A month and a half later, the deficit was closer to $2 billion and the HST was suddenly not just on the horizon, it was the "best thing for B.C.'s economy." Voters felt deceived, and that's the polite version.
The HST debacle's lasting impact has never gone away, despite countless efforts by Premier Clark to change course so many times that you would need a neck brace to keep pace with her. Her government has been rightly tagged as "pulling a fast one" on voters, a tag that could take several electoral cycles to change.
How worried are the BC Liberals about these three things?
Worried enough that they brought in a former Bank of Montreal chief economist to verify their revenue estimates. They could have saved taxpayers a few bucks and simply used the Office of the Auditor General to do the same thing, but something tells me that John Doyle and Christy Clark aren't exactly Facebook friends these days. More interesting still is the fact that the chief economist is looking only at one side of the ledger, revenue, and not the complete picture that would include expenses.
When it comes to credibility, truth and integrity, these are lofty goals that the BC Liberals have never achieved with their budgets.
Unfortunately, it's a problem that won't get resolved until voters have finally spoken on May 14.
And no matter how aggressively so-called concerned citizens like Jim Shepard use attack ads to try to change the channel on the BC Liberal's credibility deficit, it looks like the only way they will fix that deficit is by recognizing the obvious: they are long past their best-before date.
Ultimately, though, it will be voters who will decide what to do with this stale item. •