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Russell Wangersky: Listening to the Bobs of the world

I’m just going to call this column “Out of the mouths of Bobs.”

Because, the nucleus of it came from a Tweet made by a guy I follow on Twitter named Bob, who later apparently took his Tweet down because of the heat it was generating. (Because of that, I’m not going to say much more about his identity.)

It was a blunt statement about the ways of the world and the province: I’m paraphrasing, but it was basically that people always want to talk about the things that need to be done to correct problems — unless those solutions actually directly affect those blathering on about change.

In other words, we all have to tighten our belts, as long as the belt in question is not actually around our own waists.

Bob says the Tweet wasn’t deliberately political — that it was about the tone and tenor of social media storms.

But the fact is, it’s at the core of one of the biggest problems of politics in this province (pretty much across the country, really, but especially here).

And that’s the fact that, when it comes to being functioning members of a community, we’re often too greedy for our own good, and politicians regularly capitalize on that.

Example A? Ches Crosbie.

The candidate for the PC leadership came out last week saying one of his first moves would be to remove the provincial sales on insurance.

Now, I don’t love the insurance tax. Far from it.

I recently got my staggeringly expensive home insurance bill, soon to be followed by my staggeringly expensive car insurance bill. I will spend a whack on money on both, because all the competing insurers are remarkably close in the prices they quote, and I basically have no choice about carrying insurance.

Both bills are staggeringly higher as a result of the 15 per cent sales tax put on them by Dwight Ball’s government in the 2016-2017 budget.

But while I don’t like the tax, I recognize its necessity: the tax brings in $110 million a year or so, and if the government doesn’t raise the money there, it either has to find the cash somewhere else or borrow more money. (Who knows? Maybe Crosbie will find the money by legislating a special tax on the share of insurance bills that goes to paying personal injury lawyers like … Ches Crosbie.)

Yet Crosbie’s promise will probably be popular with almost everyone who looks at the taxes line on their staggeringly expensive insurance bill.

It is, of course, the absolute exact structure that both the Tories and the Liberals used in the last election: offer gifts and promises, and downplay what was already the clearly-developing and blatantly obvious fiscal crisis in the province.

That crisis is still in place — yet the Ball government, keenly aware that an election is again approaching, has been nibbling away at the very tax measures that were supposed to shore up our fiscal capacity, doing things like lifting the extra taxes on gasoline.

Their argument is that, on the fiscal side, things are getting better.

No. The hole we’re standing in is not getting deeper at the same rate it was. It is still getting deeper, every day. We are still well over our heads in debt.

Think about just one small piece of the fiscal puzzle: in November, the province’s annual deficit was disclosed as $852.4 million. The last time the province borrowing money, it got an interest rate of 3.7 per cent.

That means, next year, in addition to all the bills the province already has, we’ll have to come up with $31.5 million just to pay additional interest.

Surely we’ll have to tighten our belts — but, just like Bob said, the only acceptable belt-tightening is on other peoples’ pants.

Out of the mouths of Bobs, indeed.


Russell Wangersky can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.


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