BRITISH COLUMBIA

B.C. Liberal government opts out of fall session after summer sitting

09/11/2013 12:39 EDT | Updated 11/10/2013 05:12 EST
VICTORIA - British Columbia politicians won't be going back to the legislature for a sitting this fall.

Instead, Finance Minister De Jong said Tuesday the Liberal government plans to spend the next few months preparing February's budget and working on developing a new tax regime for the liquefied natural gas industry.

"The house sat through the summer in the aftermath of the election," de Jong said. "The government wants to take the time to prepare for a robust spring legislative session."

He said the next legislative session won't officially start until early next year.

The Liberal government has said the development of B.C. LNG projects represents a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity that could create 100,000 jobs and help the province pay down its debt, which currently is at more than $62 billion and forecasted to rise.

Last February, Clark announced the creation of a B.C. Prosperity Fund that proposes to use tax revenues from proposed resource developments to raise $100 million over 30 years, of which debt elimination is the fund's first priority.

"I'm hoping that the framework (of the tax policy) will be available by the end of the calendar year," de Jong said. "There's a lot of work involved here and the drafting work associated with this I am advised is very, very complex."

Opposition New Democrat house leader John Horgan said the Liberals are denying British Columbians the opportunity to participate in the development of important public policy by not recalling the legislature this fall.

He said it could be almost one year before Premier Christy Clark officially sits at the legislature as an elected MLA if the politicians don't return until February.

Clark lost her Vancouver seat in May's B.C. election and won a byelection in Kelowna in July, but not in time to make an official return to the legislature this summer.

Horgan made a biblical reference to the fewer than 40 days the B.C. legislature has sat this year.

"It rained more on Noah than there were days of legislative sitting in the 2013 year," he said. "That seems to me among the lowest in Canada."

De Jong made the announcement while releasing the government's latest financial figures that point to a decline in the projected budget surplus.

In his quarterly update, he downgraded the government's surplus forecast to $136 million from the projected $197 million last February.

The minister said revenues improved by $69 million, due partially to tax sources and natural resources, but that extra cash is offset by $86 million in expenses for such items as fire fighting and flood prevention.

De Jong said he is still projecting a balanced budget in February, but on a razor's edge.

Despite a one-third decline in his surplus forecasts since February, the surplus projection remains credible, he said.

Opposition NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth said he never believed the original surplus number and he expects the province to be in the red by next February.

He said the Liberals projected a surplus on revenues from prospective sales of asset properties and tight revenues, but as the months go by, the financial forecasts continue to reveal declines.

"The surplus has been reduced now twice and we're only in the first quarter," Farnworth said. "The government has a very steep hill to climb to achieve a balance, and I don't think they are going to unless it's on the backs of services (that) families around the province rely on."