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Hansen knew during election revenues were off

British Columbia Finance Minister Colin Hansen said today that he knew during the election that the province's revenues were tanking, but said he believed at the time it would not affect the deficit.

“The first time that I ever had any indication from ministry of finance staff that our revenue projections might be taking a bigger hit than we anticipated was actually a casual conversation I had in the middle of the election," he said while answering questions about today's budget update.

"The deputy minister indicated to me, as an aside actually of a relatively brief discussion, that our revenues may be under pressure to the tune of about $200 or $300 million dollars from what we had previously anticipated.”

Several hours later Hansen appeared alongside Campbell in a scrum in the premier's office.

During the election Hansen and Premier Gordon Campbell insisted the provincial deficit would not exceed $495 million, despite many indications the economy was in worse shape than previously thought.

Campbell said that when he insisted the deficit figure was firm, he believed it was true. “What I actually was doing was reporting on what I knew at the time,” he said. “I was not frankly aware of what the impacts were in terms of revenues and I think frankly a lot of people weren't. There were a lot of projections, no question about it.”

He said a week or so before the election he'd heard the revenues were dropping, but he thought the drop was manageable. “I'd also heard we could manage them within the budget framework we'd set.”

“Anyone following the papers would know there were going to be pressures on revenues,” Hansen said.

At the time he didn't worry, he added, because he knew the government was finding places to save money. “The first thing that popped into my head was that was still doable within the budget framework we'd set for ourselves.”

Asked when exactly he had the conversation with deputy finance minister Graham Whitmarsh, Hansen said he didn't know. “I don't keep a diary.”

“I don't buy it,” said New Democratic Party leader Carole James. “It's worrisome that a minister takes a comment in passing that revenue is dropping and he doesn't worry about it? He should be paying attention to those things on behalf of British Columbians.”

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

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