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Finance minister Hansen insists BC deficit figure is firm

VICTORIA – Premier Gordon Campbell cracked a joke about the province's finances at today's cabinet swearing in, but re-appointed finance minister Colin Hansen insisted the deficit will not grow.

“I hope they'll be cheering like that after September first,” Campbell quipped as Hansen got a heartier-than-average response from the crowd at Government House when his name was called during the ceremony.

Sept. 1 the Liberals will introduce a revised budget, Campbell said earlier in the week. He invited speculation that the $495-million deficit promised in February and reaffirmed during the election was set to grow when he said, “When facts change we have to be willing to change.”

In a scrum with reporters following today's ceremony, Hansen said the February budget figures remain accurate. “Given what we know today, if I was in a position to table a budget today, it would be a deficit of $495 million or less,” he said. “I'm still confident that come Sept. 1 that we will be able to deliver on that.”

Hansen pointed out that the economic forecasters use calendar years while the government's fiscal years start on April 1. That means the 2009 forecasts for low growth or a recession include a quarter that is captured in the government's 2008-2009 budget year. Similarly, the government's 2009-2010 year will include the first quarter of 2010, a year forecasters expect will have stronger growth, he said.

Asked if the 2008-2009 results are therefore worse than expected, Hansen said, “We are still finalizing public accounts . . . We will wait until everything is finalized and I have the opportunity to table those documents.”

When pressed, he said he expects the public accounts, normally released in July, will show a small surplus for 2008-2009. “That is still my expectation,” he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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