On May 9, 2017, British Columbia voters elected the first minority government since 1952, with the Liberals hanging on to win 43 of the 44 seats needed for a majority government. The New Democratic Party will, at least for the time being, remain the official opposition. It is not quite over yet, as there are absentee ballots that need to be counted, and there are several close races where there will likely be recounts.
It is almost exactly two years from the time that we in Alberta elected an NDP majority, and voters in B.C. have narrowly escaped the same fate. It is interesting that the performance of the economy at the time of the election in Alberta was completely different than the performance of the B.C. economy today. When Alberta elected the NDP government, the world price of oil was low and unemployment was very high. For reasons I have never understood, if an economy is doing poorly, a great many people look to the government for a fix. There seemed to be a desire for change, so voters chose this change through the NDP. It was an odd choice at the time, given that voters seemed to believe that somehow electing an NDP government would help the economy. How we expected a socialist government to increase the world price of oil is unclear. It seems we have been quickly disabused of this idea, as the NDP policies here in Alberta have made a bad economic situation even worse.
B.C. is doing very well, unemployment is low and there is overall confidence the economy will continue to remain strong. It is difficult for us in Alberta to understand this, but in B.C. the Liberals are basically the provincial conservative party, and they seem to be very pro-business. Clearly this is the opposite of their federal counterparts. During the campaign, the Liberals continually pushed the message of a strong economy, and took credit for the economic performance. In this situation, it is not clear why B.C. voters nearly voted for a socialist alternative. Voters seem to quickly forget economic history. The economic evidence shows whenever an NDP government has been elected, the economy performs rather badly. The disasters are all documented: Ontario economy under the Bob Rae regime; Saskatchewan before the election of Brad Wall; and of course British Columbia under NDP governments in the past. We can add the current Notley government in Alberta to this list.
Here in Alberta, we should learn a lesson from this B.C. election. In spite of the Notley government’s poor policies, there are signs the Alberta economy could be on the road to recovery. The Conference Board of Canada predicts the Alberta economy will grow by 2.8 per cent in 2017 and 1.9 per cent in 2018. Clearly, the recovery will be slow and fragile. When the election comes in 2019, we should remember the fate of economies under NDP governments, and how the 2017 B.C. election narrowly avoided this same fate.
Frank Atkins is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.