We Lose When B.C. Government Listens To Bond Raters Over Citizens

Susan Lambert  Susan Lambert     Past President, B.C. Teachers’ Federation

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca    05/05/2014

Peter Cameron’s warnings that the economic skies of B.C. will fall should government negotiate a fair contract for B.C.’s teachers reminded me of Doug Foster’s testimony in the historic court case won by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation this spring.

Foster, assistant deputy finance minister and unabashed fervent apostle of “free market” based economic policy, testified that the province invites bond raters to advise as provincial budgets are developed. That advice is designed to “keep taxes low and constrain spending” in return for a good credit rating.

Foster testified the bond raters are wary of all spending, including capital projects, and are staunchly opposed to deficit budgets. The net zero mandate was approved of by these raters who promised to maintain the triple AAA rating only with the caution that the mandate be maintained.

Foster also testified that government agreed with the raters that the economy was fragile, even though this analysis was contradicted in the government’s message to the people of B.C.

Colin Hansen, the finance minister at the time, painted a rosy picture of the economy in the province, talking about B.C. as one of the strongest leaders in economic growth in Canada attributable to the success of the Olympics, the ability to pay down the debt by $9 billion, and projections of personal income increases of three to four per cent among other favourable indicators.

So Cameron’s warnings connect some economic dots for me. Seems like the bond raters, firms like Standard and Poors found to be complicit in the 2008 global economic crisis, are once again “advising” government. These are the people in favour of an alternative vision of Canada, (one in which the 1% have both economic and political clout and can dictate policies that increase the numbers of homeless, impoverished and dispirited in an increasingly mean world), who are coercing our government with the financial equivalent of the fabled carrot and stick.

Rather than charting our own course as citizens of this province and probably this country, we are being held to ransom by the rogues and villains who profit from low taxes, smaller government and free markets.

These are the greedy charlatans who preach “trickle down” economics and promote private rather than public services. Who are supported by corporations with production and supply lines in Bangladesh where there are no regulations or unions to protect workers from exploitation, violation and death in order to profit when these goods are sold for enormous returns here in B.C.

And what effect has this “free market” driven economic policy had on public services in this province? You don’t have to look further than your local school board struggling to identify yet further cuts to the programs and services that once made the system the strongest in the world.

We have the highest child poverty rate in the country. Mary Ellen Turpel Lafond has recently revealed that we have, across the province, fewer services for children than there are in the city of Calgary.

As this government heeds the advice of free market economists, so does our investment in public services decline. These neo-liberal economic policies are supposed to be beneficial for all, but we see the stark reversal of that promise.

The hope of jobs is fading as the promise is pushed further and further back on the horizon. Public services are declining. And costs to ordinary citizens are increasing. When will we ever learn?

Follow Susan Lambert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susant8404

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