POLITICS

Club of 1: B.C. finance minister singles out province for balanced budget

02/04/2015 07:00 EST | Updated 04/06/2015 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - British Columbia is preparing to enter an exclusive economic club by bucking a trend of deficit budgets nationwide, says the province's finance minister.

Mike de Jong has echoed the confident refrain of Premier Christy Clark that the books will be balanced when they are revealed on budget day in Victoria on Feb. 17.

"Balancing the budget isn't easy. If it were, we wouldn't be, probably the only province in Canada that will have done it this fiscal year and will do it again next year," he told The Canadian Press.

"So that is why we are able to buck the trend, and that exclusive club you hear me talk about occasionally around having a balanced budget is probably going to be very exclusive and probably going to be a club of one."

But taxpayers should not be expecting any bonuses either. De Jong said challenging economic times mean the province is in no position to provide huge tax relief, although there's also slim likelihood taxes will be hiked.

Prudent, cautious forecasting, coupled with a diverse economy, has paved the way for the more detailed announcement later this month, he said. In November, de Jong boosted his surplus projection to $444 million from the $184 million forecast one year ago.

B.C. has avoided the vacuum that's sucked coffers dry elsewhere due to a dependency on oil and gas revenues, he said. The federal government has delayed its budget until April over the dramatic downfall of crude pricing.

"Don't make assumptions about what revenues to the government of British Columbia are. We are not anywhere near as dependent upon oil as provinces like Alberta or even Saskatchewan," he said. "It accounts for a very, very small amount of our revenue."

Revenues are "clearly down," he agreed, but said the amounts are manageable. Positive activity in other areas of the economy make up the difference, and the province was cautious making natural gas revenue projections.

"You will hear about some very positive numbers in terms of retail sales and housing starts," he said. "So there are other areas of the economy we can draw from, which is what distinguishes us from some of those other jurisdictions in a positive way."

De Jong also attributes the province's financial health to its discipline around controlling expenditures and success at breaking into Asia-Pacific markets.

In late January, Premier Christy Clark said she expected Saskatchewan to be the only other province to table a balanced budget for the coming year.

B.C.'s 2014 budget was also balanced. A new legislative session kicks off with a throne speech on Feb. 10.

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