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Les Leyne: How was my budget experience? So glad you asked

In the interests of open government and transparency, which we are all big on, I’m filling it out publicly.
Finance Minister Katrine Conroy tables the budget as Premier David Eby looks on from the legislative assembly at the legislature in Victoria, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. CHAD HIPOLITO, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Slumped over my keyboard, still overwhelmed by the suffocating amount of government data stuffed in my face ­during this week’s budget lockup, I was physically, spiritually and ­emotionally exhausted.

Suddenly, a cheery note from the government communications office popped up on the screen. They’re doing a survey.

“Media. How was your budget experience?”

In the interests of open ­government and transparency, which we are all big on, I’m ­filling it out publicly.

“We’re curious. How many times have you par­tic­ipated in budget lockup?”

That’s kind of personal, don’t you think?

Let’s not be specific. Just say I wore skinny leather ties and pleated Dockers to the first few, and was the coolest guy in the room. I did lockups when there was no such thing as a ­gluten-free vegetarian free‑lunch … Where they handed us 10 kilograms of documents in big shopping bags, not just a ­little thumb drive … Where you didn’t have to surrender your phone because it hadn’t been invented yet.

“Overall how was your ­experience as a media participant?”

It was lonely, for one thing. There are fewer of us around than there used to be. And the after-party now is just a joke — two guys having a quiet beer. It used to be 25 people on expense accounts screaming and high-fiving and hugging and … well, let’s just leave it at that.

But the talking points in the room are as inspiring as ever. “Building a Stronger BC!” ­“Taking Action For You!” “We Are Stronger Together Than We Are Alone!” “We’re Helping People with Everyday Costs!” That stuff is gold. It’s worth the $30-million communication budget all by itself.

“How much do you agree; I got the information and support I needed?”

I see what you did there. ­People like to be agreeable, so you nudged me toward the ­positive. Clever.

There was enough infor­mation to write three books on Budget 2024. But they would appeal only to people who like reading columns of numbers and chapters on “transfers to service delivery agencies” and “key ­fiscal sensitivities” and “private sector exchange rate forecasts.”

It’s the support that’s ­lacking. How about an artificial ­intelligence app next year?

“Give me 700 words on debt, stat.”

“What’s the deal with housing start projections not going up like they said they would? Go.”

“Contrast the Eby approach with the Horgan doctrine in the context of the previous B.C. ­Liberal paradigm and make it sing.”

“Prior to the event how much of the information that you needed did you get?”

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy did a media appearance the day before the budget. So using my journalism instincts, I asked what was going to be in it. She laughed in my face. Rude!

“Do you have any suggestions for how future Budget Lockups can be improved? Please include any of your ideas plus what you’ve heard from others.”

If you’re going to insist that deficits are trending down when they’re actually going up, you should have semantics ­counsellors on hand to explain how words have suddenly changed their meanings.

If you’re going to jack total provincial debt from $103 billion to $165 billion in just three years, when it’s already doubled since you took over in 2017, you should have a few defibrillators in the room for the debt nerds. You could give a person a stroke with plans like that.

Also, the idea of assigning a government handler to every reporter in the mob scene where stakeholders give their views is just weird.

It seems like there are more border collies than there are sheep these days.

They were nice folks, but it’s like having really friendly surveillance drones hovering around you, when all you’re doing is chatting with someone about why the Canucks have started sucking.

As for “what I’ve heard from others,” one guy had a ­sandwich in the lockup and started ­feeling queasy.

He headed home to Vancouver but got to Swartz Bay a ­minute too late and had to wait for hours. God knows what time he got home but he wasn’t at work Friday.

We just can’t afford losses like that, we need every hand on deck.

But thanks for asking.

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