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Big Budget Surplus Came at Citizens’ Expense, Says James

Provincial public accounts show $2.7B surplus; NDP promises new priorities in Sept. 11 update.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 22 Aug 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

British Columbia’s $2.7 billion surplus in the last fiscal year was the result of service cuts and an economy that’s not working for everyone, said Finance Minister Carole James today at a media conference to release the public accounts.

James said her government aims to change spending patterns to give a boost to equality.

“We’re going to focus on allocating the province’s finances in a much more equitable way,” she said. “The people of our province should see the benefit of any strong economy we have.”

The former Liberal government’s last budget in February 2016 forecast a surplus of $264 million.

The audited financial statement released today showed revenue was $3.4 billion higher than forecast in the budget and spending was up 4.1 per cent, or $1.3 billion, James said.

Debt increased $591 million to $65.9 billion.

James said the provincial economy was strong during the 2016/17 fiscal year, but many British Columbians were left behind.

“I believe that the public accounts also point toward a real lack of a balanced approach to the economy and the importance of investing in the very people who helped build this strong economy,” she said. “That’s a shift you'll see with our government.”

She pointed to education underfunding as an example, citing the 15-year legal battle over class sizes and composition stripped illegals from contracts by the former Liberal government.

The BC Teachers’ Federation won the case and James said taxpayers’ money spent fighting the court case should have been spent on education itself.

“This is a government that had to be forced by the Supreme Court of Canada to actually spend money on education,” James said of the Liberals. “What's more important than making sure we’re investing in the people that make a strong economy?”

James said the government will work to improve services in B.C., improve affordability and build a sustainable economy.

“A budget and a surplus belong to the people of British Columbia,” she said.

The New Democrats will present a budget update making “key investments” in services on Sept. 11, James said.

Child poverty rates and childcare are among other issues the government intends to address.

It will also include the high costs of fighting forest fires in the province this year.

James also highlighted problems and substantial deficits at Crown corporation ICBC.

A recently released independent review of the auto insurer found its finances are precarious and significant rate hikes may be needed.

James said more will be revealed about the insurance provider in the near future.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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