Every new leader has to honour the predecessor yet chart a different course. I’ve yet to hear one say he/she will do exactly what the last woman/man did, even if in power there is a nice crutch to lean on.
David Eby has been handed a mixed bag to maul in his first whirl as premier: A serendipitous surplus largely owing to a federal revenue bonanza and a looming economic slowdown out of his control.
He has to address these two large factors, pay some homage to John Horgan, but be his own premier. His debut throne speech Monday carried the requisite vagueness of promising without guaranteeing action, uttering bromides without specifying prescriptions.
In other words, specifics to come. But the broad brush strokes, delivered (on behalf of the King, no less) by Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin, gave every indication that interventionist government and a steerage to the left is upon us.
There appear to be nearly two-dozen pieces of legislation in the works for this session, but the speech is a reasonable reflection of how Eby is arranging more clearly what had been a batch of priorities that produced a tangled web in his first few weeks.
The priorities of the priorities: Housing, public safety and health care. And, to address the political scare of his life in running for and nearly losing the party leadership, there is additional attention to climate change.
All will add expense, even if Tuesday’s first ministers’ meeting on health financing will yield further federal support, not only at a national-standard level but on a provincial-specific level.
The sound bite of everyone’s focus from the speech is: “People in B.C. are working harder than ever. But many feel like they’re just getting by, not getting ahead.” True, that, but without a plan for growth, we are left with a plan for spending.
What’s mainly missing is any plan to develop the economy, to encourage growth, to reward innovation or to produce prosperity. Where Horgan was developing some of those muscles as his time progressed as premier, Eby is so far leaving those barbells to collect cobwebs in the weight room.
Thus it has become futile to expect tax relief to open the door to investment; any relief is likely to redistribute wealth without necessarily generating any growth as it goes.
At least the speech confirmed what we’d long known, in that the economy is slowing and the surplus will sag and probably slink away in the months ahead. The debt approaches $100 billion. No matter, Austin’s delivery of Eby’s words somehow suggests that there will be investments in social programs, presumably over the course of years, so it is curious to know how the province will finance them longer-term once the nearly $6 billion surplus evaporates.
Having overtaxed us, Eby’s government seems prepared to overtake us with more spending.
Where Horgan moved gently and consistently to the middle, Eby indicates it’s time to reverse course economically and socially.
Where his government finds the funds, given the slouch in real estate revenue and, in time, consumer spending, is something it will have to spell out Feb. 28 in its budget, when the bromides and vagueness won’t do. Maybe he won’t think it matters.
Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.