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Policymakers no longer looking west

THIS province is getting boxed around the ears in Ottawa, and that's unlikely to change for a few more years. The federal Conservative government has a majority and a serious budget problem, so it's taking things out on the provinces.

THIS province is getting boxed around the ears in Ottawa, and that's unlikely to change for a few more years.

The federal Conservative government has a majority and a serious budget problem, so it's taking things out on the provinces. Trying to right the fiscal ship means spending cuts that will inevitably be unpopular.

Compounding the problem is the drift of the Official Opposition - the federal New Democratic Party - away from the west, and more towards central Canada.

As a result, British Columbia risks becoming marginalized by the two political parties that have the best chance of forming a government in Ottawa - the federal Liberals appear to be going nowhere fast.

The looming closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station is a prime example of Ottawa's disconnect with this province.

While budget cuts are inevitable when a government faces a serious deficit problem, there are some cuts that are more sensitive than others.

The closure of that station will be neatly contrasted with the fact that thousands of bureaucrats work in Ottawa, running programs that are based in the provinces. While there are job cuts to that part of the federal budget, there will never be enough to dispel the impression that more could occur if it meant saving things like the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.

Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna once observed there were more department of fisheries employees working in Ottawa than there were working anywhere near an ocean. That pretty well says it all when it comes to Ottawa's centralized attitude towards the provinces.

The Harper government is chopping other services in B.C., of course. Several hundred jobs in immigration, public health and tourism will disappear, which means service reductions in all kinds of areas.

Of course, many people are unaware many federally funded services are there until they disappear. How many were even aware there was a Coast Guard station in Kitsilano, for example?

But that ignorance does not eliminate public anger over some of those budget decisions. That anger could be substantial in smaller towns where the cuts are to be felt disproportionately deeper. In Revelstoke, for example, 14 parks positions will be eliminated or reduced; that's a noticeable reduction in a small town like that.

There is also a bigger financial headache headed our way. A few years from now, the federal Conservative government will start tying annual increases to health-care spending to economic growth, which will undoubtedly reduce the amount of health-care dollars flowing the provinces' way.

Then there's the Harper government's strong support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which appears to have significant opposition in this province.

Although the project may be ultimately abandoned - shipping Alberta's oil sands product east rather than west seems to be an idea picking up steam - the Harper government's attachment to it is not winning it many friends in this province.

Now we come to the other side of the political equation. Federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has made waves with his criticism of this country's reliance on revenues from natural resource exports, which is something that is the backbone of the western provinces' economic make-up.

As I and others predicted when he won his party's leadership, Mulcair appears to be shifting his priorities away from the west and more towards winning support in central Canada. The high price of the Canadian dollar, which partly results from our natural resource riches, hurts the manufacturing base of Ontario, where Mulcair is trying to shore up support.

He knows the path to power in Ottawa runs through seat-rich Ontario and Quebec, and not through the natural resource-rich western provinces, which simply don't have enough seats in the House of Commons to match central Canada.

So British Columbia is getting it from both ends of the political spectrum.

The Harper government has a majority, and the political reality is that it doesn't have to listen to critics as much as in the past - at least not until closer to election time.

Meanwhile, the federal NDP now looks east, rather than west, when it comes to shaping priorities.

Add it all up and it could be a gloomy few years for British Columbia's interests in the national capital. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global B.C.