The BC Budget dropped with a loud thud this week, spreading provincial largess far and wide.
The process always folds out in predicable steps.
The Finance Minister goes to get his shoes fixed.
The press gathers for the traditional lockdown in the Legislature until the budget is delivered.
The budget is announced, with great pride, by the ruling party.
The Opposition hates it.
Let’s begin with those shoes. Politicians love symbolism. It’s their bread and butter. And finance ministers in particular seem to favour the symbolism of shoes. It has been traditional in Canadian politics — and when exactly it began is debatable — but it’s tradition for the Finance Minister to wear new shoes when delivering a budget. It certainly became notable in the 1960s, when Minister Don Fleming wore new shoes for that year’s budget. Many Finance Ministers to follow continued the tradition, although it must be noted that Conservative Finance Minister John Crosbie, always a character, chose to wear used mukluks to deliver his budget in 1979. Not sure what the message was but Crosbie likely offered a colourful explanation. In a more obvious connection, in 1999 Finance Minister Kelvin Ng wore caribou-skin boots when he tabled Nunavut’s budget.
Liberal Paul Martin wore new work boots to deliver his first budget, and the message there is pretty obvious. Saskatchewan finance minister Ken Krawetz first bought a new pair of shoes for budget day in 2013. He put them on with a shoehorn to demonstrate that the province faces what the minister described as “significant financial pressures on the treasury”. That’s so clever, I can’t even.
But in British Columbia, Mike de Jong likes to get his shoes resoled to indicate fiscal responsibility. He is following the tradition of Conservative federal Finance Minister, the much-admired Jim Flaherty.
So every year before the budget, de Jong trots out to a local shoe repair shop in Victoria to pick up his newly soled shoes and the media dutifully trots out behind him to cover the big event. Much tweeting ensues.
Moving on to the lockdown, all media is herded into a room at the Legislature and given a look at the many centimetres thick budget document. They have several hours to absorb the minutae of the budget, all the fascinating details. But they can’t tweet (oh horror!) or communicate to the outside world until lockdown ends. Upside, you generally get a free lunch.
Now the budget is delivered in the Legislature and journalists everywhere are set free.
Then the dissecting really begins. Much talk of balance. Speaking of balance, Finance Minister Joe Oliver wore “New Balance” running shoes to deliver his budget in 2015. Get it?
This being the last budget delivered before the May election, goodies were plentiful. Cuts in Medical Service Premiums, cuts in business tax, a boatload of funds for education. The cynical will say, sure it’s election year, of course you’re going to get financial gifts. I say, I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’ll take any and all breaks I can get on fees, services and taxes.
Now to the Opposition hating it part. They did. Hated it. Said the government stole “their” idea about eliminating MSPs. And maybe they did. Although I’m sure more than a few people have said, “Say, it sure would be great if we didn’t have to pay MSPs!”
I frankly do not care whose idea it was. British Columbia is the only province in Canada where you pay premiums for your health insurance. Anything that leads to its elimination, I’m all for.
For next year’s budget, no matter who the finance minister is, I’m sending the shoes. Perhaps a pair of hip waders. Hmm, what’s the symbolism there, I wonder?
Carolyn Grant is the Editor of the Kimberley Bulletin