De Jong vows balanced budget with no pre-election goodies for B.C.

VANCOUVER – Finance Minister Mike de Jong says he will table a balanced budget next month, but B.C. voters shouldn’t expect the kind of pre-election goodies to which they may have grown accustomed.

De Jong announced Thursday that the B.C. Economic Forecast Council, which advises the provincial government, revised its economic outlook for the province.

The adjustment is a “very, very modest” downgrade, de Jong said, and the growth predictions are reassuring.

But the finance minister said lingering uncertainty internationally means his Feb. 19 budget will be conservative.

“There ain’t going to be a plethora of spending announcements and all the goodies that politicians like to go out with at election time,” de Jong told about 300 members of the Vancouver Board of Trade during a political panel.

Balancing the budget “doesn’t leave us a lot of room for extravagant spending promises and proposals. That’s the choice that we have made because we believe that that discipline translates into a stronger British Columbia, a stronger economy and an ability to better service social programs like health care and education.”

The B.C. economy is expected to grow by 2.1 per cent this year, down from the 2.2 per cent the forecast council predicted two months ago. Next year, B.C. should see growth of 2.5 per cent, down from 2.6.

The forecast average for the period from 2015 to 2017 remains the same at 2.6 per cent.

Carole James, the NDP social development critic and one of the four members on the lunch-time political panel, said the New Democrats will release their own budget next month so voters can make an informed choice when they go to the polls in May.

During what was an uncharacteristically tame debate in front of about 300 board of trade members, James questioned whether de Jong can really be taken at his word.

“It is important to balance the budget and this government has not balanced the budget over the last number of years,” James told board of trade members.

“We all know what happened in the last election: the government said they were going to balance, they said $495 million was going to be the end result and after we came back from the election, all of a sudden they were billions of dollars in debt.”

Although polite, the political rivals took pot shots at one another about everything from the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal and the Liberal government’s liquefied natural gas plans to a capital tax and the green economy.

Bruce Ralston, the Opposition finance critic, said the “sum total” of Liberal accomplishments during the last four years was to introduce and then repeal the Harmonized Sales Tax, while de Jong and Jobs Minister Pat Bell warned there is $43 billion in investment on the line in northern B.C.

Now is not the time for B.C. to change its political course, de Jong said.