By Michael De Jong
Minister of Finance
The B.C. government has just tabled its second successive balanced budget, with projected surpluses over the course of the three-year plan. We are also on track to end the current fiscal year with a surplus of $175 million. This grants us membership to a very exclusive club — provinces with a balanced budget. In fact, depending on what happens in Saskatchewan, it could end up being a club of one.
Because of our continued fiscal discipline, British Columbia also enjoys the benefits of membership in another exclusive club — jurisdictions with the highest possible credit rating: Triple-A. Because we represent a lower risk, we are able to borrow money at a better rate. And that translates into more money available for program spending.
British Columbians have made it clear to government that the costs associated with running the province today should be paid for today. That’s why I promised B.C. taxpayers government would not spend more money than it receives. This commitment, combined with hard work, due diligence and fiscal discipline has paid off, and today all British Columbians are the winners.
This doesn’t mean everything from here out is going to be easy. In fact, to continue meeting our targets, we will have to rely on more of that old-fashioned discipline that got us here. But with a balanced budget, we have leeway to advance some key priorities.
Government’s primary focus will continue to be working with the private sector to promote job creation. In partnership with the private sector, we will redouble our efforts to realize the objectives we set out in the Jobs Plan: to attract investment, expand trade, foster growth and generate employment.
We are providing $29 million over three years to support the development of B.C.’s LNG industry and another $9 million to support environmental assessments for major projects, including proposed LNG facilities and pipelines. We are continuing to work closely with First Nations and communities to make sure development aligns with their — and the province’s — needs and priorities.
Our Skills and Training Plan is built around four key areas of action, one of which is to invest in and improve our training facilities. We’re doing that at two levels — in high schools, and in higher education. At the high school level for example, the new NorKam Trades Centre of Excellence in Kamloops will offer courses in areas such as mining exploration, industrial skills and construction trades training.
At the post-secondary level, Budget 2014 includes $2.3 billion in capital spending by post-secondary institutions, supporting projects such as new trades training facilities at Camosun College in Victoria, new facilities at Okanagan College in Kelowna and a new campus for the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.
We’re also making significant new investments in supports for those individuals and families most in need. This is one of the benefits of a surplus budget: now that we have room to make choices, we can put more resources into the programs and services so many families rely n.
We are providing incremental funding of $243 million over three years to Community Living BC to maintain services for adults with developmental disabilities and their families. We’re also providing an additional $15 million over three years to the Ministry of Children and Family Development to better support children and youth with special needs. This is on top of the $70 million announced in Budget 2013 for the Early Years Strategy in 2014/15 and 2015/16.
And to help keep communities safe, we’re investing an additional $15 million over three years for increased RCMP costs and $6 million over three years for legal aid-related services.
Government is also working to make the dream of homeownership more attainable. Effective today, February 19, the threshold for the first-time buyer’s exemption from the Property Transfer Tax will increase from $425,000 to $475,000. This will benefit about 1,700 additional first-time buyers annually, saving them up to $7,500.
This government has a realistic, achievable three-year plan to keep British Columbia on course for the future we envision — the future our citizens and our children deserve. We will do that by controlling spending, encouraging economic growth and working with the private sector to stimulate job creation. In other words, we are sticking to our plan that is rooted in the common-sense proposition that guides families across B.C.: Don’t spend more money than you have.