VANCOUVER - B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins appeared to launch his unofficial election campaign on Tuesday with the release of a five-year fiscal plan promising modest surpluses through smarter spending.
Cummins didn't release specifics of Conservative expenditures, however, saying voters can expect those details once the official campaign gets under way next month.
"That's the sort of detail that will come in our platform. I don't want to give away any of our deep secrets at this time," Cummins said.
The fiscal plan encompasses the current fiscal year up to fiscal 2017-18, covering spending up to a provincial election expected in fall 2017.
The Conservatives project a $209-million surplus in 2013-14, with total revenues of $43.6 billion and expenditures of $43.4 billion. By 2017-18, the surplus is projected to grow to $390 million, on revenues of $57.4 billion and expenditures of $57 billion.
The Liberal government predicted surpluses of $197 million for this budget cycle and growing to $460 million for 2015-2016 when it presented its budget last month.
A Conservative government would balance the budget without raising taxes, Cummins said, and repeal the carbon tax gradually over four years.
While spending details were not on offer, Cummins did say his party would increase funding for justice by $700 million over five years and set aside $1.5 billion for new expenditures.
The party would also deal with an issue raised by the provincial auditor general, and stop deferring BC Hydro expenses. Cummins said the B.C. Liberals have used this to create "phantom profits" for the Crown corporation.
The carbon tax has failed, Cummins said, and it will be axed, along with the Low Income Climate Action tax credit and the Rural Homeowner Benefit that the Liberals put in place to offset the carbon tax.
That will cost the province $1.2 billion a year once it is fully repealed.
"There is no question that Victoria could use an extra $1.2 billion each and every year," Scott Anderson, chairman of the Conservative finance committee and the candidate in Vernon-Monashee, said in a statement. "But the carbon tax is fundamentally unfair...."
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, commended the Conservatives for producing a fully-costed plan, and he invited the New Democrats and the Green Party to do the same.
"Show us what you would do with our money," Bateman said.
But the Tories have selected the most aggressive figure for economic growth available, he said, and the federation will be watching for spending details.
"I wonder what John Cummins would have said if Mike de Jong had brought out this number. I suspect he would have gotten criticism for not having a conservative enough budget revenue input," Bateman said.
In the current global fiscal situation, a five-year plan "is very tough," he added.
The Conservatives expect to save $1 million a year by "spending smarter," and promise increased budgetary oversight in Victoria that includes MLA committees to sit every fall to review government expenditures.
Cummins said the provincial Conservatives has about 30 candidates nominated and about 30 more who will be in place by the time the writ is dropped in April.