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Keith Baldrey: BC NDP spending spree in the forecast for 2023

With surplus cash burning a hole in the government’s pocket, look for plenty of rebates and one-time grants.
BC legislature
Expect an array of spending announcements in the next three months, says columnist Keith Baldrey.

It is nearly always hazardous to make predictions of how things will unfold in B.C. politics in the coming year (remember the 2013 election?) but it is still a fun exercise and, heck, I only do it once a year.

So here is my short list of what I expect (and do not expect) to happen on the provincial political scene in 2023.

I expect the BC NDP government will embark on quite a spending spree in the next three months (which extend to the end of the current fiscal year) as it spends as much of its $5 billion budget surplus as possible before any money still on hand on March 31 by law goes to pay down government debt.

However, very little of the spending will be the kind that becomes embedded in existing program spending because that money would have to be used again in subsequent years. Rather, look for a lot of one-time grants for things like research and development projects, community organizations, rebates and the like.

I do not expect Premier David Eby to call an election this year. Despite the constant speculation by some that he will, he has pledged to stick to the legislated election date slated for fall 2024.

His words aside, his party simply is not prepared to fight an election any time soon. The muddled leadership race that installed Eby as leader exposed the BC NDP’s vastly shrunken membership base, and the party is not well organized in some key ridings in Metro Vancouver.

This fiscal year’s mammoth budget surplus notwithstanding, I expect new Finance Minister Katrine Conroy to deliver a huge deficit when she introduces her first budget in February.

The current fiscal plan had projected a $4.2 billion deficit next year and it is hard to see how that figure will be much lower. The economy is slowing down and may be headed for a recession, which could do huge damage to government revenues.

I do not expect the many challenges in the health-care system to disappear any time soon, because our population is increasing and it also aging, which means more people are seeking more health care.

Until the staff shortages plaguing the system (and other sectors of society) are fixed soon, it is hard to see much room for improvement. Still, some changes are being made (not the least of which is that new contract for family doctors) and they will have a positive effect down the road (just not right now, although getting through the respiratory illness season should help).

I expect the BC Liberal party will find that changing its name (to BC United) is going to be a far trickier thing to pull off than many party members may think. Changing a brand is not done overnight, and I am not sure there is enough time left in the current election cycle to successfully pull it off.

I expect we will experience at least one extreme weather event in the coming year, be it massive flooding, wildfires, an atmospheric river or a heat dome. While not political in nature, these events are starting to have political implications as governments are being viewed more critically in how they respond to them.

Finally, I expect to be wrong about at least a few things in the coming year. But I hope to be more right than wrong!

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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