BC VIEWS: Time to get smart or go broke

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Public-sector union members gather at the B.C. legislature in 2005 in support of striking teachers. The BCTF was fined $500

VICTORIA – B.C.’s job market held steady in July, with unemployment at 7.3 per cent. The latest Statistics Canada job data were released as global financial markets teetered on the edge of another recession.

B.C. was last reminded of its vulnerability to world events in late 2008 and early 2009, when financial markets froze up and governments around the world started frantically borrowing to bail out major industries. There are still idle construction cranes around B.C., although the vital commodity markets have recovered.

It was the sickening skid in provincial revenues, which began to reveal itself during the 2009 election campaign, that triggered the B.C. government’s panicked grab for the harmonized sales tax and its transition fund. If blame is important to you, blame Stephen Harper for the HST, but please don’t believe Bill Vander Zalm and the NDP when they claim it was merely a political plot covered up with lies.

The truth is much scarier than the scare tactics of these political opportunists. Globalization isn’t optional, and there are lots of countries out there ready to beat us up and take our lunch money if we give them half a chance.

The Canadian and U.S. central banks have held interest rates near zero since the crisis. If something more goes wrong, they are “out of bullets,” as economists say.

Here’s another economic fact about the year 2011. For the first time in Canadian history, the majority of people with employer-supported pensions now work for government or its agencies, rather than the private sector.

Despite all the political blather about left and right, more spending versus less, government keeps growing. That’s true for Canada and for B.C., where government grew every year of the allegedly tight-fisted reign of Gordon Campbell.

There has been lots of bleating about HST on adult-sized clothing for children. Claiming your hubby’s clothes are actually for a bulky child may be the oldest scam in sales tax evasion.

This is an example of what economists call the paradox of public finance. Economists like consumption taxes because they’re difficult to avoid. Many taxpayers dislike them for the same reason.

This is the road that leads to Greece, where tax evasion is considered a civil right along with fat pay and pensions. The same population expects to go to university at little or no cost until they’re 30, and then retire at 55, with the whole apparatus somehow held up by the dwindling band of workers in between.

The latest contract demands of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation give a sense of their Greece-like isolation from reality. Lengthy paid leaves, yet more paid professional development days, oh, and a double-digit wage increase after the rest of the public service has accepted zero.

I attended the recent BCTF convention in Victoria, where this entitlement culture was on display. During a news conference about the BCTF’s many demands, someone stood behind Education Minister George Abbott and held up a sign for TV cameras that demanded “No Tankers.”

This was no campus radical slipped in from the street. It was a middle-aged BCTF delegate, one of many decrying the industrial economy we need to pay for their pensions.

B.C. aspires to be a shipbuilding economy but it can’t do shipping? According to our public sector union elites, we’re too precious to allow oil tankers in B.C.?

Apparently some have still failed to notice that oil tankers have been going up and down the coast for decades, and back and forth under the Lion’s Gate Bridge for years.

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

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