BC’s future really is in the hands of British Columbians, but are they willing to grab it?

Politicians are often the people we love to hate and we tend to rank their integrity well below that of used car salesmen. But we should remember that they have put their lives on hold to run for office, potentially exposing their every high school party and Facebook posting to public scrutiny and recrimination. And this is before they are even elected.

Once in power, they must then constantly deal with intractable problems and insatiable demands.

Take the current B.C. provincial government. Even good news comes with a generous sprinkle of salt. The good news is that the investment rating agency, Moody’s, has maintained B.C.’s AAA credit rating, although cautioning that it may drop in the future.

Sure, the province’s finances are in good shape now, in fact still better than many other provinces, but provincial debt could well increase because of both rising demands to spend more and iffy revenue prospects, which will surely lead to lower credit ratings.

Two big sources of pressure to spend – which runs counter to the government’s stated aim to balancing its budget – come from healthcare and municipalities.

Healthcare is very big problem, as well as being very politically sensitive. We all know people who are on wait lists for a specialist appointment, surgery or some other treatment.

The B.C. government has introduced a program called RACE (Rapid Access to Consultative Expertise) in a bid to reduce both wait times and costs. Under the program, a general practitioner can actually just pick up a phone, talk to a specialist and receive advice on diagnosis, medication and treatment, often while the patient is still in the office. Doctors like RACE because the government now permits them to bil for telephone work. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned, but most importantly for the patient.

But RACE is only a tiny step in making healthcare delivery more effective and reducing its costs, costs which have been rising at a 5 per cent rate and need to be tightly controlled if B.C. is to balance its budget.

And then there are the municipalities, which are looking for more money from Victoria because their revenues from regressive property taxes are insufficient to meet their capital costs. In fact, the Union of BC Municipalities is calling on the provincial government to start sharing its tax revenues with the cities once it is comfortably in surplus, which is still a few more years away yet.

But the situation is so dire for some northern municipalities, where infrastructure projects will have to be completed if they are to both share in and contribute to the future prosperity of the province, that Premier Christy Clark has already said that she will work with them to meet their needs.

There’s an easy way to deal with spending demands while controlling debt, of course: simply create a strong economy generating both jobs and prosperity for the people of B.C. and increased revenue for the government.

One such possible source of growth is selling liquid natural gas (LNG), but that requires both a means to produce and deliver the product; hence the Premier’s willingness to help Kitimat develop the needed infrastructure, and customers. It is also the reason Clark is leading a trade mission to Korea, Japan and China in November. Korea and Japan are excellent potential customers for B.C.’s LNG; China, less so since it has other potential energy sources.

Another possible source of growth is B.C.’s role as Canada’s gateway to the Asia Pacific region. Unfortunately, to fully take advantage of its role, B.C. will have to recognize that, as Canada’s gateway, it is responsible for delivering all of Canada’s (and not just B.C.’s) many resources, goods and services to the growing Asian markets. And that includes Alberta oil.

B.C.’s future really is in the hands of British Columbians. But are they willing to do what it takes to achieve it?

Troy Media BC’s Business columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker and can be reached at http://www.rkunin.com

Column provided by Troy Media, http://www.troymedia.com

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