VICTORIA -- When Billy does well in school, he can reasonably expect certain things to happen.
First off, he can expect his teachers to acknowledge his efforts and achievements; second, he's got every reason to expect his family to praise him for having been a good boy. Well, it ain't necessarily so. Not for every kid named Bill, anyway.
Take our Bill, Vander Zalm, that is. Just a few days ago, the premier of all British Columbians got a fairly good report card from his finance minister, and what do think happened? Nothing, that's what.
Mel Couvelier's first quarterly financial report, a state-of-the-province document, was released without the fanfare that once accompanied of such reports. The 30-page document, along with a two-page press release, was quietly deposited in the mail slots of reporters and columnists covering provincial affairs. No press conference; no ministerial congratulations to himself and the premier for a job well done.
But that wasn't the only bummer for Billy. Those to whom he looks for approval, the voters, apparently couldn't care less either whether or not the Socreds did a fair job of the economy under Vander Zalm's leadership. Nobody says, "hey, the government is really doing a swell job."
The first quarterly report paints quite an encouraging picture of British Columbia's economy. Why didn't Couvelier make a bigger deal of it? Surely, his boss could have used a little upbeat publicity.
True, Couvelier has never over-estimated the importance of quarterly financial reports. They don't mean a thing, he once said. Too many things can change. I beg to differ.
Every business worth its salt takes regular financial stock. It isn't good enough to wait until the end of the year to find out whether you've stayed within the budget forecast. Trends can be discerned from financial analyses during the course of a budget year. Spending can be adjusted accordingly.
The trends shown by Couvelier;s first quarterly report of the 1988©89 budget year are nothing to be ashamed of. According to the report, prepared by the finance ministry's experts, most economic indicators promise a good year. Based on performance during the first quarter, economic growth is estimated at three to three and a half per cent this year. That's better than the budget forecast of 2.7 per cent.
Retail sales, an important economic factor indicating consumer confidence, was up by 10 per cent in the first quarter, compared with the previous year. Exports originating in British Columbia were up 12 per cent.
One of the most significant improvement in the province's economy was in business capital investment, which indicate a growth of 16.3 per cent for 1988. This forecast is based on the predictions of a mid-year Statistics Canada survey of economic intentions. Then we come to housing starts, another important measure of economic performance. Housing starts in British Columbia totalled 14,282 in the first half of 1988, an increase of 8.8 per cent, compared to the same period last year.
Inflation, the bogeyman of any economy, has been relatively low in British Columbia. The Vancouver Consumer Price Index was up by 3.6 per cent in the first half of 1988. The figure for Victoria was four per cent.
There are a few flies in the economic ointment, according to the Couvelier's report.
"The main cause of uncertainty in the economic outlook are the recent slowdown in employment and the path of interest rates and commodity prices over the next none to 12 months. With no adverse developments in these areas, the British Columbia economy should grow at between three and three and a half per cent in 1988," the report says.
The report also gives a fairly encouraging account of the job the government did as custodian of our tax dollars. Things could be better, sure, but they also could be a lot worse, as they were during the recession years.
At the end of the first quarter, the government shows a budget surplus of $98.3 million. That compares with a budget deficit of $105 million for the corresponding period last year. But again, Couvelier doesn't make a big deal of it, except to say that the current year's budgetary expectations, a deficit of $395 million, "is achievable." That may still sound like a big deficit, but would be a lot better than the previous year's $850 million deficit.
With all that "faaantastic news," I know I'd tell my finance minister to start blowing the horn a little louder. Hell, if it weren't for nattering nabobs of negativism like me, nobody would find out.