Sunday, September 16, 2012

BC NDP win still likely in 2013

There has finally been a bit of good news for Premier Christy Clark and the BC Liberals.  In the latest opinion polls they have gained three points while the BC NDP have lost three points.  The bad news is that still leaves the Liberals at 25% and the New Democrats at 46%.

Meanwhile the BC Conservatives who are holding steady at 19% have recently engaged in some in fighting over their leader John Cummins.  MLA John van Dongen I expect would like to be the one leading the party into the next provincial election which is scheduled for May 2013.  Whether or not that will happen will depend entirely upon a leadership review vote for Cummins that is currently happening by mail in ballot.

Adrian Dix, leader of the BC NDP is currently the most popular opposition leader in Canada with an approval rating of 53% while Premier Christy Clark’s approval rating is at 28%.  Interestingly enough the least popular Premier in Canada is Darrel Dexter the NDP Premier of Nova Scotia at 26%, while Canada’s most popular Premier is Saskatchewan’s free market conservative Premier Brad Wall whose approval rating is a resounding 65%

Unless she delays the election, which would serve only to give the BC Conservatives more time to get their act together and paint her as afraid to face the electorate, Premier Clark only has about seven months to turn things around.  It is likely that the spring budget will contain a number of election goodies.  In fact it is likely that a decision to put wooing the public ahead of fiscal restraint was in part responsible for the abrupt resignation of Finance Minister Kevin Falcon.

Clearly there are areas where the government can and should take action to reign in spending.  There has been a spate of stories regarding the growth in number and salaries of executives at ICBC.  Less well known is the fact that this fiscal year the BC Ministry of Health and its health authorities will spend $1.4 Billion on administration, an astounding annual increase of $303 Million since 2009/10.

In British Columbia, on average, there is one administrator for every two hospital inpatients. And BC compares poorly to other provinces in Canada. On a per capita basis, BC spends 20% more than Alberta and 24% more than Ontario on health administration. As a whole, Canada has ten times as many health administrators as some European countries. In Canada, we have one health care bureaucrat for every 1,400 citizens. In Germany, they have one for every 15,000.

Thus in British Columbia we have the farcical situation where in some hospitals like St. Paul’s there are now more administrators than patients while elsewhere new hospital rooms sit idle due to lack of funding for additional anesthesiologists, surgical nurses and the like.
Health care is an area where British Columbians are paying more than enough money to receive first rate services, but not seeing the results due to the percentage of funds that are being gobbled up by administration.  That is why surgical wait lists have continued to grow even as health care funding and the number of new hospital operating rooms has continued to increase.

In order to increase her popularity, Christy Clark is going to have to move aggressively and quickly to start dealing with these problems.  Taxpayers want to know that their hard earned tax dollars are being used wisely.  That means the new Minister of Health and former head of the BCMA Hon Dr. Margaret MacDiarmid is going to have to get serious about administrative cut backs and re-directing those dollars towards opening up the dozens of operating rooms in BC that are currently sitting idle due to lack of staff and specialists.  By doing that Premier Clark can restore her credibility as a Premier who can govern and not just as a politician who can campaign.

The last week of September will see the gathering of municipal and provincial politicians at the Union of BC Municipalities annual general meeting in Victoria, B.C.  This will be the last such gathering before a provincial election that is scheduled for May of 2013.  As such it is expected to be well attended as government MLAs hope to reclaim lost support while opposition MLAs attempt to demonstrate they are ready to govern.

It is also an opportunity for municipal governments to push for funding assistance on a variety of issues, the most important of which are infrastructure spending.  At a time when housing prices are no longer soaring, it is much more difficult for municipal governments to hide the ever larger tax bite they have been taking out of homeowners’ pockets.

Although bike lanes may be the topic de jour, the core issues of maintaining and upgrading sewer, water and road infrastructure remain critical to the day to day livability and economic success of any community.

That is why participation of all three levels of government in funding such infrastructure is so critical and why UBCM’s AGM remains British Columbia’s most important yearly political gathering.

Michael Geoghegan is a government relations consultant based in Victoria, BC