Monday, October 5, 2009

Government is gambling with other people's money

I reprint below a lengthy article from the Province newspaper originally published on September 3 that explains that the BC government doesn't really have the right to make their proposed cuts to the arts and charities. The BC Liberal government proposes cuts of up to 92% to charities and the arts and culture sector in the upcoming budget. But they propose to steal the money from BC Lottery Corp to run government: to steal from charities and non-profits. That money is not taxpayer money and they have no right to steal it to run the government.

You can tell them so by voicing your opinion – "giving advice" they call it – about the upcoming budget on this web site:
The deadline is October 23.

Column: Government is gambling with other people's money
Why the Liberals' gaming-grant shenanigans are everyone's business
By Gillian Burnett, The Province, September 3, 2009

Province web editor Gillian Burnett.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop file, The ProvinceIn the frenzied runup
to Tuesday's bad-news budget, the Liberal government quietly sent out
hundreds of ticking time bombs and retreated to the relative safety of
their homes for the weekend.

Last Friday, dubbed "Black Friday" by the thousands of B.C. charities
that depend on gaming revenues for their existence, Rich Coleman, the
minister responsible for disbursing the money, sent out a memo. His
message, delivered under the sunny "Best Place on Earth" logo, was to
the point: Dear Community Organizations, We screwed up the numbers, so
you know that cheque we said was in the mail? It isn't.

The tone was brisk. Unapologetic. The gaming gravy train has ended, it
suggested, and in its place we're funding, well, gravy. CommunityLINK,
which supplies lunches to needy kids and was previously paid for by
the education ministry, will be getting your money, in addition to
projects supported by the BC Arts Council, also previously funded by
the taxpayer.

Priorities have shifted, Coleman lectured, and community groups that
we deem expendable — environmental, adult sports groups, alumni
associations, and especially "a number of arts and culture
organizations" — are out of luck.

It got worse. That money hadn't only been for future use. In most
cases it had already been spent, based on formerly ironclad written
guarantees that have simply been trashed by the very officials who
signed them.

Oh puh-lease, I hear some of our readers thinking. We're all
suffering, so why should I get upset about a bunch of fancy-pants
artists when the alternative is to let kids go hungry?

Well, that's exactly what Minister Coleman wants you to think. That
false comparison is calculated to distract from the heart of the
issue: It's not the government's money to take away.

To understand why, we need to go back a few years.

In Canada, before there was "gaming" — a cuddly word that evokes
family Scrabble nights — there was gambling.

And it was bad.

So bad, in fact, that it was illegal for the first 100 years of
Confederation. The only exemption was for charities, which ran
lotteries, bingo halls and casinos, and reaped the profits.

Then, in 1969, a Criminal Code change allowed governments a foot in
the door — but only when a worthy cause was involved. Charities were
their ticket and their moral justification, and still are: Just look
at the pages on the BCLC website trumpeting the motto "When you play,
good things happen."

Smelling easy money, the province, by the late 1990s, was soon kicking
open that door, even while promising to set aside charities' cut in a
trust and ensure direct access to the funds. The contest between a
goliath government and small, varied community interests had
predictable results.

In 1997, when the province, in a reverse Robin Hood maneuver, tried to
rob charities of $24 million to pay for its own "charitable" health
and education services, the NDP government was taken to court. The
following January, when then-deputy premier Dan Miller was ordered to
give the money back by the Supreme Court, opposition leader Gordon
Campbell summed up the decision best:

"Mr. Miller had to give it back," he declared. "It wasn't his money. I
don't trust him, period. And I don't think the charities should."

In June of 1999, the province signed agreements re-committing to their
community partnerships — agreements still in evidence on B.C.'s gaming-
policy website. They pledged, among other things, to consult the
charities' umbrella representative, the B.C. Association for
Charitable Gaming (BCACG) regarding any proposed changes, and
guaranteed a yearly minimum of $125 million with a view to committing
fully 1/3 of ongoing net community casino revenue.

That was 10 years ago, when gaming revenue grossed B.C. about $525
million annually. Last year, net gaming revenue hit an all-time high
of $1.1 billion, yet the charities are getting $139 million, 11
percent less than they got the year before. And the legitimate
recipients still don't know how much of that $139 million will be used
by Coleman's appointed illegitimate recipients.

"And yet somehow the government managed to find $39 million to promote
the Olympics," points out BCACG's Executive Director Cheryl Ziola. The
impact of the cuts is immeasurable, she says. "These cuts are going to
affect hospices, daycares, playgrounds, you name it. In Prince Rupert
alone there are 40 charitable organizations that rely on gaming funds
to provide services."

Most shocking of all, perhaps, is the absence of any attempt on the
government's part to minimize damage.

They could have taken away this money (that isn't theirs to take)
slowly and with warning. Instead, they knocked the door down and set
fire to the furniture, killing some organizations and crippling
others. Some groups had multi-year funding in place they'd based long-
term planning on, only to be told they were broke.

Wednesday, by which time rumblings about potential lawsuits had no
doubt reached the ears of government lawyers, finance minister Colin
Hansen experienced a sudden (partial) change of heart: Our mistake, he
said. We'll honour those multi-year agreements after all, representing
a reinvestment of $20 million over the next two years.

Reached for reaction, BCACG's Cheryl Ziola said, "The fact is, they're
still not fulfilling their funding agreement, and we're going to keep
hammering on that." Plus, she pointed out, they made this sudden
decision with absolutely no consultation whatsoever with the groups in

What about those organizations that didn't have a multi-year deal?
Well, it's their problem, along with their creditors, their laid-off
employees, the venues they'd booked next season that will now sit
empty — and, in many cases, the taxpayer, who would have seen a $1.38
return in tax revenue for every dollar invested in the arts. And keep
in mind, these dollars aren't coming out of taxes to start with.

In effect, the Liberals have handily dumped a portion of B.C.'s
deficit onto the unsuspecting backs of the people in our communities —
often volunteers — who make a daily, measurable, qualitative
difference to all of our lives.

All with money that isn't theirs.

Just ask Gordon Campbell.

© Copyright (c) The Province

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