A bit of chest thumping about B.C.’s relative economic might at a Thursday afternoon luncheon had Kelowna Chamber of Commerce members cheering for Premier Christy Clark.
“Remember when (former Alberta Premier) Ralph Klein used to say, ‘if you want to get welfare, here’s a bus pass, go to B.C.?’” Clark told the crowd gathered for her budget rundown, which emphasized a $264-million surplus on $48-billion in revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
“Now we are in the enviable position of being able to say to Albertans: ‘Come to B.C. get on a bus, get in your car bring your truck…don’t come and get welfare. Come to B.C. and get a job.”
Despite recent figures showing that Kelowna may be in a job slump, B.C. in general is expected to see more economic growth than any other province this year. The government itself has forecasted 2.4 per cent growth in real gross domestic product for 2016 while the B.C. Economic Forecast Council is projecting 2.7 per cent growth.
Part of that, explained Clark, will come from new residents driving things forward. This year alone, more than 48,200 newcomers are expected to move to B.C., with 13,000 from other provinces and 35,200 from other countries.
Growth in manufacturing, retail, tech, trade, film and tourism sectors is also set to offset low prices for commodities such as coal, copper, lumber, pulp and natural gas.
Natural gas isn’t something that Clark is letting go of as a future economic powerhouse, however, despite the issues that sector has experienced.
“LNG is still going ahead,” she said. “Success is not for quitters. (There is a) vision for the future and changing your future does not mean running the white flag up the flag pole the first time you see a problem.
“We will get there on LNG. World demand will continue to grow as demand for clean energy and sources for energy in general continues to grow, but we’re not there yet.”
Further acknowledging trouble in commodities, Clark went on to tell the crowd that “it’s never going to be harder than this next year ahead.”
“We certainly see what’s happening in Alberta, our closest friend and neighbour, just getting hammered with what’s going on with oil prices.
“We see in China, one of our biggest trading partner, stock markets closing without notice,” she said, adding the US is still suffering from its recession, while Ontario is flagging under overwhelming debt.
“Those are warning signs that every Canadian needs to heed. So when I say we need to keep our eyes on the ball I really mean it. We have worked hard and we have been very focused, but there has been no time to stay focused more than now.”
Focus, she said, should be on getting the “fundamentals right.”
Expenditure highlights from Budget 2016 include a $3.1 billion investment in transportation infrastructure including highway upgrades and transit infrastructure, $2.9 billion for major health care projects that include a new centre for mental health and addictions, $2.5 billion for post-secondary schools, and $1.7 billion to “maintain, replace, renovate, expand and seismically upgrade” schools for students in kindergarten through Grade 12.
This year’s budget also includes the Prosperity Fund, which will see the amount of $100 million put aside for a “rainy day.”
Although the Thursday update saw Clark’s budget met with much fanfare, not everyone has been so fond of it.
“This government could have chosen meaningful action to make life more affordable for families. Instead the budget continues Christy Clark’s practice of taking more money from the pockets of British Columbians through hikes to MSP, hydro rates, ICBC rates, camping fees, ferry fares and more,” said New Democrat spokesperson for finance Carole James.
“This budget illustrates that the premier’s not there for hard-working B.C. families. She’s there for herself and her political friends.”
BC Teachers’ Federation President Jim Iker also gave it a fail.
“The projected increase in funding is just another shell game that fails to account for increases in student enrollment and rising costs,” said Iker.