Kevin Falcon and Christy Clark get some help from Ministry of Finance bean counters

Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight

Governments spend a great deal of time and effort on massaging their messages to the public. And this was on full display in the B.C. government’s recently updated fiscal plan.

In the first quarterly report, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon revealed that this year’s deficit will rise from $769 million to more than $2.8 billion. For 2012-13, the deficit would increase from $434 million to $805 million.

According to the update, that’s due mostly to slower-than-expected economic growth and the cost of repaying a $1.6-billion HST signing bonus to the federal government.

Following the ministry’s lead, the mainstream media linked the bleaker outlook to the demise of the harmonized sales tax.

The fiscal update also suggests there is no money in the kitty to pay for any public-sector salary increases….

Anytime a government wants to make the books look better (like before an election), it can increase the forecasted economic-growth rate. And when it wants to make things look worse (like before negotiating public-sector contracts), it can reduce its growth estimates….

But I can’t help but wonder if this recently updated B.C. government fiscal plan had more to do with upcoming labour negotiations than with anything else. As the February 2009 budget demonstrated, the Ministry of Finance is willing to massage the numbers upward when it suits the politicians in power. It’s not a surprise that the ministry might do the opposite when Falcon wants to present a grimmer picture to the public.