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July 9, 2010

Truth or Consequences

By the government's admission on Friday, Olympic costs ended up 50% over its promise of a maximum of $600 million. That doesn't include the costs of the Convention Centre expansion and its massive overrun, the Sea-to-Sky highway or the Canada Line. The true Olympic costs are in the billions. Many people can accept that, remembering the Olympic experience and enjoying the Olympic legacies, but they can't accept dishonest government news releases. Finance Minister Colin Hansen's release said much about legacies and nothing about the previous promise that the games would cost BC taxpayers no more than $600 million.

Hansen's release on Olympic costs made it a hat-trick for his misleading statements this week. He began his threesome with the launch of an advertising campaign designed to sell the hated sales tax while denying knowledge of the ad campaign's cost. The latest Labour Force Survey, released by Statistics Canada the same morning that Hansen was spinning Olympic costs, shows that employment in June for BC's accommodation and food services was 168,300, down 2.0% from June 2009. On August 6th Statistics Canada will release the numbers for July; the first possible measurement of consequences of the HST, unless stories are true that some restaurant chains started layoffs in June in anticipation of the tax, making the 2.0% drop the first bad news.

On Thursday Hansen put out a release headlined "B.C. Public Accounts Show Prudent Fiscal Management". In reality they quantify the extent of Campbell and Hansen's lies during the 2009 election campaign. That campaign was fought on the basis of the budget tabled in the legislature on February 17, 2009. That budget provided no forecast allowance and estimated that there would be a deficit of $495 million, a figure Campbell repeated endlessly throughout the election campaign. Public Accounts show the actual deficit ($1.8 billion) was almost four times the figure Campbell used in the campaign, and over four times the phony figure when the $250 million initial payment on the federal HST bribe is removed. Public accounts show that spending ended up at $39.3 billion, exactly as estimated in the February budget but much lower than estimated in the September post-election "budget update". Public Accounts also show that relative to the February budget tax revenues were down $1.3 billion and resource revenues were down $1.0 billion. The news headline should have been about the collapse of revenues and Campbell's claim that he had no idea about those problems until after the election.

Whether you look at Olympic costs, HST advertising costs or last year's deficit, all stories during the week of July 5th, you see evidence of the Campbell government attempting to mislead the public. As was the case with the introduction of the HST, their deceit is more aggravating than the stories they spin.