BRITISH COLUMBIA

BC Legislature Return Puts Budget On The Agenda

06/26/2013 01:23 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT
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VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark's 17-minute throne speech — likely one of the shortest on record in British Columbia — leaned heavily on her long-standing election pledges to balance budgets, freeze taxes, create jobs and slay the debt.

Clark's Liberals returned to the legislature Wednesday, more than a month after winning their fourth consecutive mandate, and the party has promised to debate and pass a balanced budget that was introduced last February but not adopted because of the election campaign.

Clark, who was not re-elected in her Vancouver-Point Grey riding, took a guest seat inside the legislature to hear the throne speech. She is currently campaigning in the July 10 byelection in the Liberal-friendly Westside-Kelowna riding in an effort to officially return to the legislature.

The throne speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, included Liberal promises to deliver four-consecutive balanced budgets during their current mandate and move to toughen the province's balanced-budget law.

"This will be the first of four consecutive balanced budgets in its mandate," said Guichon. The budget will be introduced Thursday.

"And to ensure that future budgets are balanced, your government will toughen the balanced-budget law," she said. "A strong economy also means low taxes for families and job creators. Your government will freeze personal-tax rates and carbon-tax rates for five years."

Clark also promised to develop a 10-year skills-training plan that starts in high schools by matching student skills to jobs.

Labour shortages are threatening to slow down what could become booming jobs and development possibilities in B.C.'s resource sectors, including mining and natural gas.

"Preparing the workforce with skills that match current and future job opportunities where people live and in the communities they love, is essential to ensuring that British Columbians are first in line for jobs," said Guichon.

Guichon said the government plans to accelerate its jobs plan and work on eliminating B.C.'s debt, which Clark said during the election campaign could be achieved within 15 years if the province seizes the economic potential of natural gas.

Guichon said the government is committed to bringing long-term labour stability to B.C.'s education system, but the throne speech no longer repeated the Liberal election pledge of a 10-year contract with teachers.

"Your government will work to bring together teachers, parents and school boards to achieve long-term labour stability in our classrooms," she said.

The eight-page speech is shorter than most previous throne speeches.

Before the throne speech, Clark visited a suburban Victoria work site in Saanich, where construction of a seniors' residential facility was underway. Clark said her job is to ensure the province's economy continues to grow.

"The men behind me wouldn't be working, and this building wouldn't be going up to serve 268 senior citizens, 40 of them with dementia, if we didn't have a growing economy because we couldn't afford it," Clark said.

Opposition New Democrat Leader Adrian Dix said there's more to building B.C.'s economy than seeing Clark in a hard hat visiting construction sites.

He said the throne speech's claims of creating jobs and cutting the debt do not reflect the realities of B.C.'s increasing debt and private-sector job losses.

"Getting the job done on a jobs plan, getting the job done in building infrastructure, getting the job done on skills training requires more than wearing hard hats; it requires actual government policies that will promote those things, and that's what we're lacking," said Dix.

The legislature's first and only Green Party MLA, Andrew Weaver, said the throne speech reveals the Liberal government is turning its back on the environmental strides it made in recent years.

"Today it seems we’ve turned the clock back a decade," Weaver said in a statement. "We must face the challenges of climate change, twin the environment and our economy, and look for the evident opportunities in clean tech and clean energy. That is the path to a prosperous future for British Columbia."

Finance Minister Mike de Jong says Thursday's budget is balanced and on target for surplus forecasts made last February.

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