The NDP government will cruise into winter on a cloud of feel-good legislation and a comfortable financial cushion in the latest fiscal update.
The government dodged a major transit strike in metro Vancouver when the sides settled. It more or less ignored an ongoing forest industry strike. And it got away with double-taxing the business world for a year on medical premiums and taxes, incurring resentment but not open revolt.
Even the recent party convention, where members have been known to turn on their own caucus, was a snore.
The legislature adjourned this week and won’t return until February, when the next budget will be balanced, even though the medical services premium will be gone.
The legislative focus was the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. B.C. is the first jurisdiction in the world to legally commit to abiding by the dozens of points in that UN declaration. It means years of work amending existing laws to reflect the recognition of those rights and the need for Indigenous consent to provincial decisions.
Debate opened with a moving ceremony where First Nations leaders stressed how history was being made and reassured people worried about the implications.
Chief Terry Teegee of the Takla Lake First Nation near Prince George said: “There is fear in the idea of sharing power and jurisdiction. I want to say strongly and clearly here that this declaration law is not about providing any government with veto rights.”
The unity on that day carried through days of debate to the unanimous passage of the law.
In fact, there was more opposition generally to the government outside the house than inside. While workers rallied on the steps against restrictions on public projects, most bills were unopposed.
The biggest loss the NDP took was when its own partners — the Green caucus — voted against changing to permanent daylight savings time.
Other legislative highlights were a new climate-change accountability law to set emission targets and a new plan to make gas prices transparent.
Meanwhile, the fiscal update shows the budget is following an established pattern. The surplus that was forecast on budget day last February is shrinking, but there is a big enough cushion that the budget will balance.
The ongoing joke “only the government could lose money selling dope” is coming true, as cannabis revenue is $18 million below estimates because of the delayed rollout and lower demand.
Also missing is $27 million in casino revenue, likely due to a focus on the dirty money that was pouring through them.
The main fiscal highlight is that the government tax curbs on real estate prices — which could have gutted revenues coming into the treasury — cut the provincial take only slightly.
In fact, the market might even be rebounding. That would be a separate problem to be tackled next year.
Just so you know: Shamefully overlooked by the mainstream media, the government cunningly slid through a bill that enshrines a series of grammatical decrees — all made without public consultation — in an assortment of bills.
It extends the use of hyphens. “24 hours” becomes “24-hours” in a community-care law, for instance.
A reference to “the higher one thousandth” in income tax law becomes “the higher one-thousandth.”
Even more dramatic, round brackets are eliminated in one act and replaced with square brackets — even though the bill doing so is called the Miscellaneous Statutes (Minor Corrections) and Statute Revision Amendment Act.
How can a bill change round brackets to square elsewhere when it has round brackets in its own title?
[It went unexplained.]
Attorney General David Eby had braced for a floor fight over the changes and got one later. B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver objected to a mathematical formula used to figure out B.C. Ferries financing, on the grounds that it had “inelegant mathematics.”
“I’m wanting to see what the rationale is for this rather, almost, elementary school-type logic, in terms of having a big thing over another big thing.”
Eby later amended a different part of the bill on the fly to make a correction in the corrections bill.
When Weaver queried that, Eby joked it was a deliberate mistake, just to see if he was paying attention.