By HUBERT BEYER
VICTORIA -- If you want an interesting read, phone Dave Stupich at his Victoria or Nanaimo office and ask for a copy of his reply to the budget.
The NDP finance critic's speech was noteworthy on a number of counts. It was a well-reasoned speech. No trumpets. No fire and brimstone. Just a quiet critique that stung.
But it was more than that. Aside from criticizing aspects of the budget which is, after all, his job, Stupich delivered a review of the NDP years in capsule form, trying to debunk what he called the myths of the Socreds' financial expertise and the NDP's fiscal ineptitude.
The speech was probably Stupich's last hurrah in the legislature. He plans to step down and enter federal politics if and when Prime Minister Mulroney calls the next election. That doesn't mean Stupich will no longer participate in the legislative debate, but his reply to the budget was probably his last major address.
Leaving aside his criticism of the budget, here are some of the observations Stupich made with regard to the three-year NDP reign from 1972 to 1975. Consider them carefully in the light of never-ending claims by the Socreds that the voters "made a terrible mistake" at the time.
When the Socreds took office in 1976, the government had no direct debt, except for $4.4 billion incurred by Crown corporations, primarily B.C. Hydro for dam projects built under the previous Socred administration.
Today's debt stands at more than $19 billion, of which more than $6 billion has been created by government through deficit financing. That amounts to about $24,000 for the average family. Stupich stressed that the NDP never produced a deficit budget. It never ran up a direct debt.
During the NDP administration, British Columbia had the lowest income tax rate for small businesses and the second-lowest personal income tax rate.
The B.C. Petroleum Corporation, established by the NDP, brought in close to $1 billion in resource revenue from the sale of natural gas. It was killed by the subsequent Socred administration.
The NDP government bought Canadian Cellulose for $1 and the Ocean Falls forestry operations for $789,000. They both turned a profit and preserved jobs.
The NDP government bought Panco Poultry for $4.8 million. Under public ownership, the company put $1.2 million in profits into the treasury. Later, the Socreds sold the company for more than $14 million, turning a nice profit for B.C. taxpayers.
The NDP government built and paid for three new ferries at a cost of $55 million. The same ferries were later sold by the Socreds to eastern interest at less than cost with a guarantee to lease them back over an 18-year period at double the selling price.
Stupich pointed out that the NDP government "put real cash money" into special rainy-day funds, totalling $201 million. When the Socreds defeated the NDP in 1975, these special funds contained a total of $552 million. That was real money from budget surpluses.
The 1975 public accounts, Stupich said, showed that when the NDP left office, the budget surplus was $45 million higher than when it came to power.
Stupich's argument does, of course, have holes. It wasn't just Socred bungling that led to the massive debt. Had the NDP stayed in power, it, too, would have had to succumb to the world recession by going into debt. But Stupich succeeds in killing the theory that the NDP was fiscally inept or irresponsible.
The NDP has nothing to fear from a comparison of its fiscal prowess with that of the Socreds. The NDP didn't squander half a billion dollars on a highway through nowhere. The NDP didn't stage Expo, a wonderful show that left a legacy of debt.
If the Socreds have been successful at one thing, it's got to be the promotion of the myth that the NDP made a mess of things during its three years in power. The facts say otherwise.
Sure, the NDP made mistakes, some of them pretty stupid, like the $100 million overrun in the human resources ministry's budget estimates.
On the whole, the NDP gave British Columbians excellent value for their tax dollars, and Stupich's reply to the latest Socred budget is as good a document supporting that claim as any I've come across.