The Horgan government is rapidly inflating public spending
The BC NDP projects a 93% increase in debt and adds 10,000 full-time equivalent public service jobs.
Budget documents released this week show a big increase in the size and spending of the NDP government in British Columbia.
Prime Minister John Horgan’s own government projections call for a 93% increase in public debt by the end of fiscal 2025 since he took office in 2018. And by this time next year, the public service will have added 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs, an expansion of almost 25%.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s three-year economic plan projects more than $13.3 billion in deficits by the end of 2025, when British Columbia’s debt is expected to hit $125.77 billion.
One of the reasons the government spends more is because it hires more, to expand the size of government.
In 2017-18, the government employed 32,865 full-time equivalents in departments, special offices and service delivery agencies. Over the next 12 months, the BC NDP will have increased that number to an estimated total of 42,508.
A statement from the Ministry of Finance omitted figures and costs, but offered year-on-year categories in which employment grew. The 2020 budget was the only year where FTEs remained static.
“Overall, these staffing increases have been in priority areas like childcare, wildfire response, COVID-19 response, mental health services, CleanBC implementation and reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” the statement read.
Since taking office, the BC NDP has opened the first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, which has grown steadily in budget but not, critics say, in efficiency. It receives over an additional $3 million to spend on policy development and research, for $24.6 million in 2022-23. Services are actually provided through the Department of Health, which increases by 6.5% to $25.45 billion.
Horgan created the new BC Infrastructure Benefits Crown corporation in 2018 to prioritize hiring unions for major infrastructure projects, like the Pattullo Bridge and the Broadway subway. BCIB is expected to triple its annual spending to $244.4 million in 2022-23 and increase further to $318.4 million a year later.
New to this year’s budget is a $3.2 million secretariat to implement the recommendations of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Resource Operations and Rural Development is split in two, with forests going one way with a budget of $832.5 million and the rest becoming stewardship of lands, water and resources to $92 million this year. (Plus, the goofy acronym, Land WARS).
Last August, the BC NDP announced it would rehire 4,000 cleaners and food service workers in hospitals. Jobs were privatized 20 years ago under the BC Liberals.
Sooner rather than later, there will also be more MPs. Up to six could be added after the next election, for a total of 93 under amendments to the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act.
Even before that happens, the Legislature receives another budget increase of $6 million to $92 million for 2022-23. This is $10 million more than in 2017-2018.
The government is also removing the 10% salary penalty for ministers who exceed annual budgets.
The end of the retainer provision, which effectively amounts to a salary increase for the Cabinet, “sent the wrong message,” Robinson said Feb. 23 during Question Period. “What he’s saying is that he prioritizes austerity and cutting investment, even in an emergency. This forces the government to balance the books on the backs of British Columbians.
Despite the spending scandal that led to Clerk Craig James being charged and tried for fraud and breach of trust, Horgan failed to deliver on a promise made in 2019 by BC NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth to to add the seat of government to BC’s Freedom of Information Act. This decision would have given citizens a complete picture of spending, rather than the periodic reports that the Legislative Management Committee deems appropriate for public consumption.
Horgan voted for the Prime Minister’s Office an annual increase from $3.3 million last year, to $14.68 million a year. When asked on Budget Day in April 2021, Robinson hinted that Horgan would use some of the new funds for post-pandemic travel in the province. Until he won a majority in the October 2020 snap election, Horgan had to stay close to the Legislative Assembly lest the minority government fall.
“We’re trying to make sure he has access to British Columbians,” Robinson said last year.
By comparison, in Christy Clark’s last BC Liberal budget, the Prime Minister’s Office was allocated $9 million. At the time, Horgan was harshly critical of Clark’s spending on a videographer and charter flights to travel around the province. So much so that the BC NDP turned the “Air Christy” scandal into a heated campaign ad.
Horgan has a bigger trip on the horizon. Last year, Horgan told several British Columbia-based diplomats that his first post-pandemic trade mission would be to European Union countries.