On Wednesday, March 3rd Bruce Ralston, the NDP’s Finance Critic, hosted a conference call for bloggers. This is the second time that he has hosted such a call and he has indicated that he will continue to do so.
The names of the bloggers that I caught in the introductions from this week’s call were, Northern Insights, Northern BC Dipper, and Politics Re-spun. Conference calls are one of the worst forms of “communication” there could possibly be; disembodied voices, crackles in the phone lines, and people like me talking over all others…Anyway, there could have been other bloggers, I just could not hear them.
Ralston came out of the gates blasting the government, actually almost laughing at Colin Hansen’s attempt to link the hated Harmonized Sales Tax directly to healthcare funding. Ralston said that already Hansen’s attempt to link the HST directly to healthcare funding had proven to be an abject failure. I’m not sure how he was measuring the level of failure, but he assured us it was already a failure.
Then I asked a couple of pointed questions about the HST. First, what happens to the provincial budget if the Initiative to stop the HST succeeds. Ralston’s response surprised me; in essence, he said that is not an issue because there is little to no chance that the initiative can succeed. And if it miraculously does “succeed”, it does not mean that the HST is stopped dead. The government then has to consider the initiative. Made me wonder why the NDP are organizing town hall meetings about the HST when their Finance Critic is essentially saying it is going to happen no matter what the people say. These twonhall meetings couldn’t be political opportunism, could it?
So then I followed up with what happens to the provincial budget if the HST does fail. Outside chance that it is. Specifically, what about the $1.6 billion the feds are ponying up to sweeten the HST deal? Not a big deal according to Ralston. The provincial budget is $4o-some billion and the BC Libs are only using something like $250 million of those dollars in this fiscal year, choosing to carry forward the vast majority of the $1.6 billion federal pay-off to a date much closer to the next provincial election. Coincidence I am sure.
Then before I could bulldoze in another question, Norm Farrell from Northern Insights asked Bruce about a recent reduction in gas royalties that were supposed to encourage more gas exploration. That in spite of the massive gas reserves that have been discovered in recent years. Farrell also brought up the issue of “fracking”. Fracturing is when internal fluid pressure is used to open fractures in underground rock formations in order to allow gas deposits to be more easily extracted (be aware, this is a VERY simplistic explanation of fracturing). The purpose is to get natural gas out of the ground more easily. However, the fluid used to do the fracturing contains some 200 different chemicals. There is a serious concern that these chemicals might be poisoning the water table, the same water table that much of the drinking water for the residents comes from.
Imagine if massive reserves of natural gas were found in the Capilano watershed. Would we let gas exploration companies go in and begin their extraction with little oversight? Hardly. Ralston did say that he is also concerned about the process of fracking and the from of “self-regulation” the BC Liberals have fostered.
Seeing as there was a 10 second pause in the questions and comments, I seized the opportunity to ask another; what would the NDP do if they were in government? How would the NDP protect the services they say are so important to the people of BC? Would they run a larger deficit than the Liberals? The answer came from Ralston without hesitation; yes they would, as they said in the election campaign they would (the election campaign they not so coincidentally lost).
I could picture the spin doctors from the BC Liberal party rubbing their hands together in glee at that comment. The party that is trying to frame the HST as the Healthcare Services Tax is going to waste no time in framing the NDP as the party that would destroy BC’s economy with their proposed deficit budgets. And you know, they would probably be pretty successful at that framing.
At the end of the call Bruce thanked us and promised to meet us again, perhaps even meeting on a monthly basis. It is interesting to note that Ralston and the NDP have taken the time to engage the blogosphere. Maybe there is yet hope for this party.