COMMENTARY: ‘Stand pat’ budget means no early election call in B.C.
It looks like the chances of a snap election have faded far away.
Tuesday’s provincial budget signals the NDP is in no rush to test the electorate, and the party appears set to govern until the next scheduled election in October of 2021.
Pick your cliché: “stand pat “or “stay the course” or “status quo.” They all equally describe the general tone of a budget that is sprinkled with bits of good will but contains no real bag of traditional pre-election goodies.
The biggest “treat” in the budget is the promise of a greatly expanded “child opportunity benefit,” which will pay families with children between $1,600 and $3,400 a year until the child reaches the age of 18.
While no doubt a popular move, the benefit does not take effect until October 2020. Surely the New Democrats will want voters to experience this showering of dollars for some time before sending to them to the polls.
In addition, the government has signaled it needs more time for its ambitious childcare plan to take root. It is another popular measure that, over time, will attract an increasing base of support among young families.
WATCH: Coverage of the 2019 B.C. budget on Globalnews.ca
Of course, the NDP’s tiny two-seat majority means the government is in a seemingly perpetual precarious state in the legislature. But the joint NDP-Green alliance has proven to be quite resilient, and there is no reason not to believe the two parties will be wedded together for a long time yet.
Green Party leader Andrew Weaver is getting increasingly critical of the NDP, but don’t mistake criticism for any potential withdrawal of support for the government.
While the Greens’ dismal showing in the recent Nanaimo byelection shows it has to find a way to separate itself from the ruling party on some issues, the three-member caucus can still be counted on to vote for the NDP during crucial confidence votes (as happened last week).
Weaver was quick to say he likes what he sees in the budget, for the most part. He is claiming credit for much of the NDP’s new CleanBC energy plan, which will provide financial incentives for people to move off of fossil fuels and on to electricity.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Carole James has also built into her budget some enormous elbow room should trouble shoot up unexpectedly and a few – or a lot of – dollars are needed to calm things down. A $750-million contingency fund, a $500-million forecast and a projected $274-million surplus adds up to $1.5 billion lying around, unallocated.
All in all, a safe and modest budget that does some small favors for some people – students now don’t have to pay interest on their loans, those on disability and social assistance get a slight top-up, and foster parents have been been given an increase in payment – that won’t rock the boat.
James has sown the seeds of a bigger payoff for voters as we draw closer to the next election. Barring some worldwide economic meltdown – which, unfortunately, remains a very real possibility – the NDP is clearly hoping that by the time 2021 rolls around, its populist programs will have paid off, just in time to seek another term.
But the budget shows the government is not quite ready to roll the dice and call a vote much earlier than that.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.
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