THE B.C. Liberals delivered a "balanced" budget this week for the first time in four years - a hugely important hurdle to clear on the way to an election in which the party will portray itself as the one most capable of managing the province's books.
But the Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act itself needs some amendment when one considers the accounting sleight of hand that helped to create this year's "balance."
For a start, the act should forbid hiding costs. While it might be a legal accounting practice to back-date costs to the previous year's budget, such figures should not be used towards balancing a government's budget.
Likewise, income from sales of capital assets should not be "counted" unless an offer to purchase has been made.
And the legislation needs to define in what circumstances revenue in the form of "dividends" from Crown corporations like ICBC and BC Hydro can be used to bolster the government books. Perhaps the theft from future British Columbians would stop if there was no political capital to be made.
Balanced-budget legislation has been an on-and-off commitment in British Columbia since the Socreds first introduced it in 1991. Both the NDP and the Liberals have repealed it when it didn't work for them, or amended it to allow for deficits - as the Campbell government did in 2009 and 2011. Such moves invite scrutiny and potential criticism. We say keep the legislation and put some teeth in it.
We all benefit when the cost of government is fully explained.