B.C. wants practicality, not partisanship, on the economy

Budget: Poll shows lower fees for services the biggest priority for both Liberal and NDP voters

By: Mario Canseco

One of the easiest ways to assess the political divide in B.C. is to ask people what they think about the performance of the provincial government on the economy. A post-budget Insights West survey asked British Columbians to rate the way Victoria is handling the economy and finances, and found that a large proportion of residents are relatively neutral, while two distinct groups offer cheers and jeers respectively.

Most British Columbians polled (56 per cent) gave Victoria lukewarm reviews, rating them with a grade of four to seven on a scale of one to 10 for their economic management. The remaining residents can be split into two main groups: overwhelming supporters (20 per cent who gave grades of eight to 10) and outright detractors (20 per cent who rate them from one to three).

As expected, a large proportion of B.C. Liberal voters from 2013 (41 per cent) give the incumbent government good marks, while those who voted for any of the three main opposition parties are more likely to offer a poor grade, from one to three (37 per cent of B.C. NDP voters, 31 per cent of Green voters, and 28 per cent of B.C. Conservative voters).

Budgets cannot please everybody, but there are ways to review the perceptions of residents on certain decisions that could have an effect on their lives. Our survey found that half of British Columbians followed stories related to the government’s spending plan very closely or moderately closely, while the other half was seemingly oblivious. Still, this does not mean that residents who were not paying attention do not hold views on how their money should be allocated.

In the survey, we asked residents to rate seven budgetary priorities, from the most important to the least important. To facilitate the analysis, let’s focus first on the issues that did not resonate with taxpayers.

Only two per cent of British Columbians believe that the most important priority is to raise welfare rates. The second-to-last priority is ensuring that B.C. has a budget surplus, selected by seven per cent of residents (and 12 per cent of B.C. Liberal voters).

Three issues finished in the middle of the taxpayer ballot. An increase in the minimum wage is the top priority for 14 per cent of British Columbians, while 15 per cent would prefer to take steps to deal with the income gap, and 16 per cent would emphasize improving social programs. As expected, NDP voters are decidedly more likely to regard these three topics as their most important priority.

Paying down the debt is the second most important priority, and the first choice for 18 per cent of residents (including 28 per cent of Liberal voters). Finance Minister Mike de Jong stated that this year’s surplus – and the ones expected over the next two fiscal years – will largely be used to cover operating debt. The party’s base unquestionably endorses de Jong’s strategy.

So, what is the main priority for residents? For 28 per cent of British Columbians, the key priority when thinking about the budget is having lower fees for specific services, such as MSP and BC Hydro.

Among NDP voters , the appetite for lower fees is tied with improving social programs as the top priority. But paying less for services is also the most important issue for Liberal voters, and regarded as a bigger matter than paying down the debt and ensuring a surplus.

The Liberal base remains satisfied with some recent decisions, but the survey suggests that a more cautious approach on the issue of service fees may be warranted in the future. Liberal voters are more likely to seek redress from higher fees than NDP voters, even if both are paying more for services. When it comes to money, British Columbians are steering clear of ideology in favour of pragmatism. Mario Canseco is the vice-president of Insights West’s public affairs division. He writes every second week in The Sun’s business section.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Click to view the data tables for this study.


Photograph: Jeff Turner