Finance minister says B.C. budget still on track for surplus despite uncertainty

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s economy remains strong and resilient despite global uncertainty revolving around trade tensions, says Finance Minister Carole James in a financial update at the halfway point in the fiscal year.

James said Tuesday that B.C.’s budget is on track to deliver a surplus and the province is forecast to lead Canada in economic growth next year while continuing to post low jobless rates.

She said the figures in the province’s second quarter fiscal report show a revised budget surplus of $148 million, down $126 million from the prediction in the budget last February.

“We’re not looking for huge surpluses,” James said at a news conference. “We’re looking for investments in the people of B.C. We’re looking at investments that are going to help us both provide the services and supports people need, but also make sure we’re growing the economy.”

She said she is taking a prudent approach to economic growth, sticking to a Ministry of Finance economic growth forecast of 1.9 per cent in 2020 even though private sector estimates are closer to 2.3 per cent.

“Today’s update will show you B.C. remains on solid footing,” said James. “We’re working from a balanced budget with layers of prudence and planning built into the fiscal strategy.”

The Opposition Liberals said the financial update has little to do with global uncertainty and more to do with poor New Democrat management. The Liberals said James appears to be steering toward a deficit budget or imposing tax increases.

“After multiple budgets with no plans to grow the economy, (Premier) John Horgan has squandered the best provincial economy in Canada that was built by the B.C. Liberals and now hard-working British Columbians are facing job losses, increased costs of living, and the heavy burden of the NDP’s raft of new taxes,” said Liberal finance critic Stephanie Cadieux in a statement. 

James said her budget in February will be balanced but there are potential risks ahead.

Volatile lumber prices have hurt people living in forest-dependent communities and the government’s bottom line, as have declines in revenue from natural gas, coal and other mining metals, James said. But she said there are signs the province’s housing market is starting to grow after plunging sales.

“We continue to plan for those risks,” James said.

Exports are down almost six per cent so far this year, she said.

“The path forward isn’t without its challenges,” said James. “Certainly for B.C. as a resource-based economy with key corridors to the south and west, we’re not immune to global challenges.”

She said the current update does not include the effect a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision could have on finances at the Crown-owned Insurance Corp. of B.C. The court struck down a provincial rule to limit the number of experts in vehicle legal actions, which the government estimated would save $400 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2019.


Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press