Barnett expounds on B.C. budget

Employment levels not up to par for British Columbia

The province has released its second quarterly report, indicating it is on track to balance its year-end budget.

It shows a slight increase in its projected year-end surplus of $165 million, up by $29 million, although revenue for 2013/14 is forecasted to be $44.3 billion, $15 million lower than its previous quarter’s projection.

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett says the reductions in revenue from taxation sources, natural resources and federal transfers were offset by an improvement in the net income of commercial Crown corporations and a reduction in forecast allowance.

However, Finance Minister Michael de Jong’s forecast allowance of $100 million remains as a buffer against future economic and fiscal risks, she adds.

In delivering his report, de Jong says employment was “disappointingly flat-lined” so far in 2013.

Unemployment dropped modestly and full-time jobs have grown, he explains, but the government will need to work to meet its Jobs Plan.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth says anyone can increase a surplus by applying a reduction to the forecast allowance, and adds the B.C. Liberal government’s promise to grow the economy and create jobs hasn’t panned out.

Employment growth in British Columbia has decreased 0.1 per cent in the first 10 months of 2013, for a loss of 2,600 jobs, he notes.

The employment figures are “pathetic,” Farnworth adds, and the jobs plan “has been a big bust.”

Meanwhile, Barnett says the answer for unemployment lies underneath us.

“We need all these initiatives that are out there, like New Prosperity Mine and other mines that are going through starting processes. We’ve got lots of exploration out there, and there’s LNG [liquefied natural gas], and we need to move all these projects forward as quickly as we can.

“I think that will help immensely because it will give us new revenues.”

New jobs provide more income tax and royalties, and also fuel consumer spending, she notes.

“LNG will make a big difference to the provincial revenue. It won’t create jobs in every community, but you may have folks who go in for two weeks and come out for two weeks. And spin-off jobs – who knows? They can come from anywhere.”

Barnett explains inflation remains low, consumer prices are down 0.1 per cent compared to the same period last year, and B.C. exports have performed fairly well this year, with strong external demand.

Year-to-date, B.C. exports are up 5.2 per cent in the first nine months of 2013 compared to the same time frame in 2012, she adds.

The report also states the B.C. housing market is now going through a period of moderation after the 2008 downturn following peak levels seen just prior to that, the MLA notes.

“I would hope the U.S. housing markets continue to grow, and I hope that exports of our lumber to China continue to grow and, hopefully, the prices stay up there to improve our bottom line and to improve industries’ bottom line.”

She says all these things also help when it comes to employee wage negotiations.

“In the Cariboo-Chilcotin directly, we need direct jobs here. We need mines to open. We’re still dealing with the pine beetle, and everybody [in the forest industry] is prepared for that. We need these new opportunities for these new resource industries to become a reality.

“As long as they meet the environmental standards and the reviews, we have to move forward.”


100 Mile House Free Press