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NDP leader Dix says he'd balance budgets, but would repeal law

British Columbia NDP Leader Adrian Dix said that while it's necessary for the government to balance budgets over the business cycle, it's pointless to have a balanced budget law that's regularly ignored.

He made the comment during an exchange with reporters following his speech to the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Victoria.

"[I] think we should actually balance the budget, and not do what the Liberal government does, which is have a law but not balance the budget," he said.

Governments should run surpluses in years when the economy is strong and deficits when it's not, balancing over the roughly four-year budget cycle, he said. While the provincial government has a balanced budget law, since 2001 it has waived the requirement to balance more often than it has met it, he said.

The audience for Dix's speech filled the main convention centre hall, with many delegates standing at the back. Dix covered several of the themes he's focused on since becoming leader of the NDP. He spoke about making politics more positive, the role of local governments and the need to support business along with the environment while reducing income inequality.

He described Premier Christy Clark as intelligent and personable, Conservative Leader John Cummins as someone whose passion on some issues has made a real impact, and Green Party Leader Jane Sterk as someone who drew 135,000 votes in the last election.

"It serves no purpose to tear down these good people personally, and I am not going to do it," he said. Voter turnouts have been falling, and personal attacks between politicians don't help, he said.

Dix took time to address the question of inter-provincial migration. A frequent talking point for Clark is that people left B.C. during the 1990s.

The statistics don't back her up, said Dix. B.C.'s population grew over the 1990s and continued to grow after 2000, he said. In the last five quarters since Clark became premier each quarter the net inter-provincial migration has been out of B.C.. *

"Now is that her fault? I don't think so," he said, making the point that the public discussion needs to go beyond name calling and the abuse of statistics. "We need in difficult times a better debate," he said.

Delegates applauded when Dix said he would give local governments the latitude to decide if projects should be built as public private partnerships. He also said he would restore the local role in TransLink and in establishing mountain resorts.

He also said he would return Tourism BC's independence and allow it to work with local communities on tourism initiatives that are regionally important.

Dix spoke about the need for a prosperous economy led by the private sector, and followed it with an argument for reducing income inequality. A more unequal province is problematic both for entrepreneurship and social mobility, he said.

He repeated a proposal to reinstate non-refundable student grants and pay for it by reinstating the minimum tax on financial institutions.

Dix noted that the economy and the environment are interlinked. "We need to treat the land better," he said.

The province is facing issues with timber supply. Up until 2002 the government knew the forest inventory, he said. "Resources to keep that inventory were cut by 77 percent, and now we're making critical decisions in the dark."

People think that cutting government will help businesses, but in some case those cuts hurt business, he said.

He concluded his speech by saying that the the NDP's job is to put forward a vision and earn people's support. "We've got a great province. There's a lot of reason for optimism," he said.

* Paragraph clarified, 12:02 p.m..

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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