Up 49.8% - Revealed Post Election
first crumb of what will likely be a lot more previously hidden
bad news came out three days after the election when the Ministry
of Housing and Social Services released welfare statistics
that should have been released by the end of April. The statistics
for March 2009 show that for the category of "temporary
assistance expected to work" the caseload increased by
49.8% between March 2008 and March 2009. The total welfare
caseload is up 13.6% relative to a year earlier, and stands
at the highest level since 2002. The welfare caseload has
not only been increasing, but the increase has been accelerating.
That was taking place in 2008 when Premier Campbell was still
claiming that BC would duck the worst of the recession. It
was worst yet during the election campaign when Premier Campbell
was saying "Keep BC Strong". Thousands of British
Columbians aren't looking at "keeping" BC strong,
they just desperately want to regain their own strength.
statistics are available and updated monthly on a government
webpage titled: "BC
Employment and Assistance Current Month Statistics".
The left hand column on that page shows the release dates,
the last day of the month following the month being added
(e.g. March 31 for the February data) until we got to the
election campaign when the government sat on the bad news
until after the vote.
the evening of March 14th I submitted a freedom of information
request for emails that discuss the release of the March data.
I think it is likely that someone in the Premier's Office
or the Public Affairs Bureau instructed those responsible
for the statistics in the Ministry of Housing and Social Services
not to release the figures until after the election. The morning
after my request for information was faxed to the Ministry
I received a phone call telling me that the statistics had
been posted to the website. I explained that my freedom of
information request is not for the statistics, which I presumed
would eventually appear, but for the emails discussing their
release. If past experience is any indication, I won't hold
my breath waiting for the letter and spirit of the Freedom
of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to be honoured.
Nevertheless, I think it important not to let the government
get away with manipulating the release of information for
its political benefit.
welfare data are only the tip of the iceberg. No serious economist
believes the figures in the Campbell government's February
budget. That budget didn't pass before the Legislature was
dissolved for the election; consequently, the government must
call the Legislature and pass a budget before its interim
spending authority is exhausted in late August or early
September. That's when we'll get a glimpse at how bad things
really are. Before then we'll see the audited financial statements
for 2008, the Public Accounts, which will permit a comparison
of what the government estimated for 2008 when the February
budget was tabled and how things actually worked out.
Campbell has a blank cheque for four more years, but how far
he can go with that mandate depends on his ability to maintain
public credibility. It is one thing to say that no economist
is getting forecasts right in these tough times, but it is
quite another to refuse to release critical information that
the public might use in judging whether it is a matter of
keeping BC strong, or struggling to return BC to strength.