Alistair Waters

Buying votes or spending wisely?

B.C. Liberal government opens the spending spigot in the lead-up to the provincial election.

In the news business, we are used to getting government news releases about spending—lots of them. And every time an election rolls around—federal or provincial—the number increases.

But the B.C. Liberal government may have outdone itself last Friday.

Between 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. the government issued 20 news releases, the bulk of the 29 in total it emailed out to the media that one day alone. Following on the heels of what most consider an particularly heavy torrent of pre-election spending already in recent weeks by governing Liberals, Friday’s avalanche of announcements combined for a whopping $2.33 billion in spending.

While $2.2 billion of Friday’s spending was the province’s plan to match federal funding for transit improvements in the Lower Mainland, $64.5 million was for a litany of projects big and small across the province, including $35.1 million for a new middle school in the southeast Kelowna.

Of course there’s nothing illegal about a government that’s heading into an election opening the spending spigot, all government’s do it—always have, always will. But, while welcomed by those getting the money, it also raises the skepticism level amongst many voters.

ocal Liberal MLA and cabinet minister Steve Thomson points out, what’s being announced now is the result of work started long before now and spending announcements can’t be made until there’s a budget in place to provide the money.

What he doesn’t say is decisions about when to bring down that budget in relation to the election, and the timing of the announcements, is totally arbitrary. Like any government before it of any political stripe, the Liberals are using the spending announcements to win votes. It’s not new. It’s politics.

On Monday, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran waded into the discussion saying publicly while one can argue about the timing of the announcements, communities should be thankful because in this area—which has seen its fair share of funding for numerous projects in recent weeks—the money is going to projects communities feel are important.

Locally, the Central Okanagan has seen money for a myriad of projects, including a combined federal-provincial funding of $96 million for water projects in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country, money for K-12 and post-secondary education, the Rail Trail, the fight against invasive mussels and a the list goes on.

As expected, Kelowna West NDP candidate Shelley Cook has questioned the motivation behind the spending, while Kelowna-Lake Country Liberal incumbent Norm Letnick has defended it, and even and vowed to keep lobbying for more, right up to the day the election writ is dropped on April 11.

And it’s not just the folks in Victoria who are being kept busy making spending announcements. Letnick and Thomson have also been kept running, doing continuous in-person funding announcements here too. Last week, three appearances—two of them for funding—in one day.

Premier Christy Clark said prior to the recent B.C. budget her government wanted to give back to the people of B.C. because there was $2 billion surplus last year. So the Liberals cut B.C. Medical Service Plan premiums in half (contingent on them being re-elected to government.)

But, like the Energizer Bunny of giving, the B.C. government just keeps on going.

So any community looking for money batter act fast. After April 11,it won’tbe a cheque in the mail, it‘ll be an election promise.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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