VICTORIA - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark enters the next provincial election attempting to sell her "families first" image with a pair of budget promises aimed at parents — first to care for children when they are young and then to educate them as they enter adulthood — that will require little new spending in the short-term and won't benefit taxpayers for years.

Clark's finance minister, Mike de Jong, was almost apologetic as he acknowledged he had little new to offer British Columbians in the Liberal government's 2013-2014 fiscal plan, which will set the tone for the May election.

The budget's flagship promises include a post-secondary grant that will deposit $1,200 into Registered Education Savings Program accounts, also known as RESPs, for children when they turn six. The budget also includes a tax credit for parents of children under six, worth up to $660 a year, which takes effect two years from now.

There is also new funding for childcare and early childhood services, as well as youth arts programs.

The government has placed cutting costs and balancing the budget ahead of new spending, and those two programs are among the very few de Jong had to boast about on Tuesday.

"With admittedly limited resources available, we are seeking to unleash the power of that savings in partnership with parents," de Jong told reporters in a briefing before he tabled his budget in the legislature.

But even those programs were designed to acknowledge the reality that the province has very little extra to spend.

The education and training grant will cost about $30 million a year, but that money will come from the province's Children Education Fun, set up in 2007, which sets aside $1,000 for every child born in the province.

The tax credit is estimated to cost $146 million during its first year — beginning April 1, 2015.

De Jong described the childhood tax credit this way: "Cumulatively significant, admittedly a couple of years down the road."

The education and training grant takes effect immediately, providing children born after Jan. 1, 2007, with a one-time deposit into their RESP accounts. Those children will have access to the money, in addition to any their parents invest themselves, when they enrol in a post-secondary program. If they never do, that grant money will be returned to the province.

To qualify, parents must already have a RESP account and apply for the grant between their children's sixth and seventh birthdays. Parents whose children turn six this year will have until Feb. 28, 2014, while the program is being set up.

The grant will be available to children born in B.C.. They will keep the grant money even if they later move to another province.

The program will be administered by the federal government.

The early childhood tax benefit will provide families with children under six with up to $660 a year per child through a refundable tax credit.

Families earning less than $100,000 a year will be eligible for the full benefit, while those making between $100,000 and $150,000 a year will receive a reduced amount. Families making more than $150,000 a year will receive nothing.

That program will also be administered by the federal government alongside the Canada Child Tax Benefit.

The province estimates about 140,000 families will receive the full benefit, while about 40,000 will be eligible for a reduced amount.

Paul Kershaw, a researcher at the University of British Columbia who is part of a campaign known as Generation Squeeze, says the savings grants and the tax credits amount to a "rounding error."

"Since they don't come into place for years, I'm really skeptical about what value they will deliver," said Kershaw.

"It really does nothing to reduce the squeeze on income, it does nothing to make it more affordable to spend time at home with your child. This is window dressing."

Kershaw said the budget increases what he described as a power dynamic between seniors and young people, with retirees on the receiving end of government services worth tens of thousands a year per person, while younger generations receive roughly a quarter of that.

The budget also sets aside new money for childcare spaces through what the government is labelling its "early years strategy."

That strategy includes $32 million over three years for new childcare spaces, $37 million over three years for child care and early childhood services, and $7 million over three years to co-ordinate early development programs for young children.

The budget also continues $20 million in annual funding for the province's sports and arts legacy fund, as well as $18 million for a new program aimed at increasing youth participation in the arts.

The next provincial election is currently scheduled for May 14.

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@ rvollo : Another basket case budget from the BC Libs. Tight spending talk doesn't apply to their 16.4M taxpayer funded partisan ad campaign.

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@ cfibBC : 30% of #CFIB members affected by 1% corp tax increase. Good that #smallbiz corp tax rate frozen though.

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Highlights from today's budget speech.

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@ todmaffin : FACT: The BC Liberals' so-called "balanced budget" will bring the province to a projected DEBT of $62.7 billion.

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"The environment was largely notable by its absence in the 2013 BC Budget,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director with the Wilderness Committee.

“Here we have a government wanting to dramatically ramp up the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry as well as the natural gas sector, but the numbers today show they want to do it on a shoestring budget. They promised us world-class environmental oversight but the reality is that we have lax, inadequate and weak environmental standards in BC, and today’s budget won’t change a thing.”

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The BC Liberal government's final budget is nothing more than political posturing in advance of the May provincial election, said Mark Hancock, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, B.C.

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"The CCPA praises corporate tax and personal income tax hikes for wealthy British Columbians, but feels the childhood tax benefit is too small to make real difference for families ($55/month when childcare fees range from $800-$1,400/month. Also called rising health care premiums a 'regressive tax.'"

From the budget:

MSP premiums will increase by about four per cent effective January 1, 2014.

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@ CharlesLammam : Govt does an about-face in #bcbudget and sends resoundingly negative signals to investors, entrepreneurs, and skilled workers #bcpoli

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@ garymasonglobe : Say what you will about BC budget - and there's lots of ??? To be asked - but taxpayer-funded debt is envy of many provinces. #bcpoli

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@ marcellam : Spent the day in #bcpoli Budget 2013 lock-up. My take? Does nothing to restore credibility. Bring on the elxn! #timeforchange

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@ RobertCFO : Can't believe BC is tabling a balanced budget and in Alberta we continue to be fiscally irresponsible. Need solutions, not excuses. #calgary

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Ralston: Investment in justice is being reduced when courts and legal services are facing major pressures.

Funding for the ministry of mines is being reduced. No funding for timely permitting in the resource sector.

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Ralston: Government is selling properties, and province will have to consult with First Nations on the sales of those properties.

Quotes economist Don Drummond's report about the province of Ontario: "If assets are to be sold, do not enter any revenue projections from said sales into the budget before the fact."

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Finance critic Bruce Ralston says the budget offers little right now that is needed. Says the 2009 budget committed numbers that had "little to do with reality," brings up the Harmonized Sales Tax as an example.

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Mike de Jong closes by saying he has a "modest" sense of pride that he has presented a balanced budget. Colleagues applaud.

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Full story on income tax hikes.

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Mike De Jong calls this a "responsible, achievable" plan as he closes.

"It may not be your classic pre-election budget. Would it just be easier to run a deficit? Absolutely. When it comes to exercising spending discipline, it's not saying yes that's difficult, it's saying no."

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The Canadian Press summarizes the child and family benefits that Mike de Jong has introduced in the B.C. budget.

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@ keithbaldrey : Children and Families get tiny ($7 million) increase in budget. Turpel-Lafond not happy. #bcpoli

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@ cfibBC : #CFIB rates #BCBudget a "B". Overall good news for #smallbiz, esp PRPP announcement. Balanced budget welcomed, corp tax increase bad signal.

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@ HamishTelford : BC budget too much reliance on temporary measures & unrealistic spending estimates, especially heath care. #bcpoli

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In 2007, when times were a little better, government started saving. Since January 1, 2007, invested $1,000 for every child born in the province. Today, that amount has grown to about $1,200. It's time to unleash the full force of that savings potential.

Effective immediately, every family with a child under seven who meets residency will qualify for an Education and Savings Grant. Government will transfer $1,200 to every family for skills and training after high school. All you need is an RESP in place before your child's 7th birthday.

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Will continue to provide tax credits to seniors and children. $27 million for the children's fitness and arts tax credits.

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"Even with these new investments, debt will remain affordable. Debt's growth will slow as we return to a balanced budget."

From the budget:

Budget 2013 forecasts British Columbia’s taxpayer-supported debt-to-GDP ratio will peak at

18.3 per cent in 2014 -15, and decline to 18.1 per cent in 2015-16.

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“These taxes hurt families by making it more expensive to live here and for businesses to set up shop and employ people. Coming on the heels of a return to the PST, the creation of good jobs will slow," says Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Cdn Taxpayers Federation

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$10.4 billion in capital investments over the next three years. Includes $3 billion into transportation, $800 million for public transportation. $30 million for the Gateway program. $9 million for cycling infrastructure.

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"Today, the tools we require to support this growth are skils and training. We are adding significantly to our skills and training infrastructure."

- $29 million for two new trades training buildings at Camosun College in Victoria - $28 million to improve training facilities at Okanagan College

- $17 million to new skills training at colleges and institutes around B.C.

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"Because it is revenue neutral, the carbon helps keep other taxes low. Since its inception, it has raised $3.7 billion, all of which has been reinvested into tax reductions." - Mike de Jong

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  • Minister of Finance and House Leader

    Mike de Jong

  • Deputy Premier, Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas, Minister Responsible for Housing

    Rich Coleman

  • Minister of Health

    Margaret MacDiarmid

  • Minister of Education

    Don McRae

  • Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation

    Ida Chong

  • Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure

    Mary Polak

  • Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

    Steve Thomson

  • Minister of Agriculture

    Norm Letnick

  • Minister of Justice and Attorney General

    Shirley Bond

  • Minister of State for Small Business

    Naomi Yamamoto

  • Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour

    Pat Bell

  • Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism

    John Yap

  • Minister of Social Development

    Moira Stilwell

  • Minister of Environment

    Terry Lake

  • Minister of State for Seniors

    Ralph Sultan

  • Minister of Citizens' Services and Open Government

    Ben Stewart

  • Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development

    Bill Bennett

  • Minister of Children and Family Development

    Stephanie Cadieux