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November 8, 2013

Government's Role

The BC NDP appears to place confidence in market forces and the abilities of entrepreneurs than do Premier Clark's Liberals. I know that is opposite to Liberal spin, but consider the evidence.

The Liberal platform, and their actions in government, speak to the role of government promoting industry, picking winners. The government admits to being actively involved in negotiating a revenue framework with industry for LNG, even though it told voters before the election that two independent consultants verified its forecast of billions in future revenues. That means there was one revenue framework before the election and there will be another after it completes negotiations with the LNG industry.

The 2013 Liberal platform highlighted "Targeted strategies to spur growth across B.C.ís economy". For example, it devoted a page in support of David Black's oil refinery and promised to work with Alberta to win that province's support for Black's refinery. While its platform said Liberals would "Fully support any mining project that has been successful in securing Environmental Assessment Office approval", the Clark government has promoted the New Prosperity Mine project despite two damning rejections.

The Liberal's "jobs plan" speaks about job creation as if it were the product of government. It talks about taking an activist role in marketing "B.C.'s goods and services, particularly in Asia Pacific and South Asia". It fails to mention the Liberal plan that could privatize BC's forests but it boasted that "The BC Jobs Plan Forest Sector Strategy means growing a strong forest industry that can take advantage of market upturns and remain competitive when markets are soft." A strong forest sector requires investment in future forests but "government has failed to plant enough trees to ensure a healthy forest industry in the future."

In contrast to the Liberal's stance of intervention in the economy, the NDP appears to assume (with some exceptions such as tax competition for the film industry) that market forces drive the economy and the role of government is to curb the excesses of those forces. That is why most of the statements the NDP made in its platform and in its resolution book for its November 2013 convention speak to protecting other values in the face of possible abuse by unrestricted economic growth. That is why the NDP election campaign emphasized skills training so British Columbians could take advantage of job opportunities rather than have them filled by new comers to BC as forecast in the government's 2010-2020 Labour Market Outlook. That government report stated: "New migrants to BC are expected to fill one-third of job openings to 2020." Some might say that is an admission of the failure of BC's skills training programs.

Some critics of the NDP, not just Liberals but also media commentators, portray the NDP as being torn between supporting the environment or the economy. The alternative view is that market forces look after the economy and no one looks after the environment, social justice or fair work practices if government abandons that role or puts it behind its priority of economic development at all costs.

Both parties desire economic growth, but the NDP's position seems to be that economic benefits need to be weighed against costs and the role of government is to mitigate the costs so as to maximize the net benefit for British Columbians. Businesses can be counted on to generate growth where ever there are opportunities for profit, but only government can curb the excesses of that search for profit.