Big deal. Those two words seem to sum up the overall reaction of voters to the news this week that the B.C. Liberals have finally balanced the books.
Rather than get caught up in the breathless enthusiasm of Premier Gordon Campbell and Finance Minister Gary Collins, we - and we suspect, most of you - are less than awed by the feat.
Cleaning up a $4-billion mess is an accomplishment, to be sure - but it is in the job description, after all. The Liberals made balancing the books a priority long ago, and it's not exactly the first time it's been done. Ever since Ralph Klein wrestled Alberta's deficit to the ground in the mid-1990s, followed quickly by the federal Liberals, governments are pretty much expected to balance the books as a matter of course. Deficits have gone from being the norm to the exception.
The focus, then, is not on the bottom line, but how the Liberals got there. Three years ago, the Liberals slashed personal income taxes with the idea of kick-starting the economy, creating jobs and boosting revenues to slay the deficit dragon. They committed specifically not to touch health care and education spending, which between them make up more than half of provincial spending.
Just in case you were wondering, it didn't happen. Instead, B.C.'s economy took kick after kick, from softwood lumber tariffs to tourism slumps to forest fires, while spending climbed to record levels.
That led the Liberals to nickel-and-dime their way back up in revenue, hiking a whole host of taxes and user fees, from the PST and tobacco and liquor tax increases right down to pay parking in provincial parks.
At the same time, it cut to everything from courthouses to women's centers to welfare rolls, with frozen education and health care budgets - which equate to spending cuts given the growing demands on both systems. In short, the books are black, but the province is black and blue as a result.
In theory, a balanced budget does lay a stronger foundation for the province's economy. But if the numbers aren't sustainable - like previous balanced budgets in B.C. - they'll not only fail to boost the economy, they'll also destroy credibility in yet another government.
The true test of the budget's mettle is not now, but at this time next year, if the Liberals prove they stuck to the plan - and, more importantly, if they can show the benefits outweigh the pain of the cuts.
Then there might be something to celebrate.