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Premier Clark lectures Americans on fiscal responsibility

On the third day of the United States government shutdown, Premier Christy Clark was in Washington, D.C. where her speech to a prominent think tank said: "You can't spend more than you take in; B.C. has been a leader on that front."

Clark's Oct. 3 speech at the Wilson Center's Canada-U.S. Forum on Public-Private Partnerships boasted a balanced British Columbia budget in 2013-2014 and a $446 million surplus by 2015-2016, but it included no mention of the province's $62.5 billion debt forecast for this fiscal year.

"Not so long ago, we thought of government bankruptcy as an old world problem, something that stopped at the Atlantic," according to Clark's speaking notes, obtained under Freedom of Information. "But the global economic turmoil is just that -- global. And we're already seeing jurisdictions in North America looking vulnerable."

Clark's BC Liberal campaign bus was emblazoned with the "Debt Free B.C." slogan during last spring's election. When she came to power in 2011, the province's debt was $45 billion. It is forecast to hit $69.8 billion by 2015-2016. Public Accounts also show an additional $99.8 billion in contractual obligations. (By comparison, the total U.S. public debt is $17.2 trillion.)

Clark told the forum that B.C. has benefitted from attracting $7 billion of private investment to 40 school, hospital and road projects worth $17 billion since 2002.

Studies by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, however, cast doubt on such "P3" projects because private financing is more costly and risky than public financing.

Clark's speech claimed "every project to date has been delivered on time and on budget." In reality, capital costs for the Sea-to-Sky Highway rose from $600 million to $795 million. The original cost of the Golden Ears Bridge was $600 million but it ended up $800 million.

Wilson Center's board of trustees is chaired by Morgan Stanley vice-chair Thomas Nides and includes Washington State Republican Party chair and ex-TV newscaster Susan Hutchison and Department of Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the former Democratic governor of Kansas who is under fire for the failed launch of the "Obamacare" Health Insurance Marketplace website.

Clark arrived in the U.S. capital on Oct. 2 with Deputy Minister Athana Mentzelopoulos and communications director Ben Chin. Clark met Oct. 3 and 4 with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, Washington congressman Doc Hastings, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski, Oregon congressman Peter DeFazio and Sen. Ron Wyden.

She also met with former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Gordon Giffin and Kerri-Ann Jones, the Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs Assistant Director. Documents show the Jones meeting was to include talk about B.C./U.S. cooperation on climate action, transboundary environmental issues and the Columbia River Treaty Review.

On Oct. 4, Clark was interviewed by reporters from Roll Call, Politico, Platts, Climate Wire and Oil and Gas Journal.

Vancouver journalist Bob Mackin is a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

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