SURREY â€” Premier Christy Clark spoke to members of the business community Wednesday afternoon (Feb. 18) in front of Surrey Board of Trade members, touting her government ‘s budget, released Tuesday in Victoria.
The premier enjoyed a pliant crowd at the Sheraton hotel in Guildford, acknowledging with a laugh that she was skipping out on the legislature in session on Vancouver Island.
Clark joked out about how her colleagues would be spending most of the day defending the budget from the BC NDP. The official opposition party criticized yesterday’s budget, which plans to use the bulk of the surplus to pay down the debt, urging the government to invest in social spending instead.
"While they play Dr. No in the legislature, we’re here to talk about the budget," laughed Clark, who started by acknowledging the budget has its share of critics.
But the premier said the government is looking to the future and are obliged to use the surplus to pay down the provincial debt, which accrued over $5 billion between 2009 and 2013. Clark said the BC NDP demand to spend the money is like taking out a credit card and making your children pay for your purchases.
She also warned that a government that spends too much can get into such a deep hole that eventually "you can’t even get the shovel into the ground."
Clark was largely self-congratulatory, pointing to three consecutive surplus budgets in her nearly equal time as premier. There was no mention of former premier Gordon Campbell when she talked about taking office in 2011, adding she made a decision to stop spending and start shrinking the size of the government.
Taking another shot at the BC NDP, Clark said she drew heavily on her experiences as a rookie MLA in 2001 when the Liberals inherited a $4 billion structural deficit from a decade of "fudge it budgets" from the previous government.
While praising the economic forecast in B.C., Clark warned it isn’t the time to start spending again.
"We cannot, even though growth seems inevitable, take it for granted," she said.
Clark praised B.C.’s diverse economy for its current optimistic outlook, saying the province’s finances are not dependent on any single commodity or industry.
She pointed to the ongoing problems in Ontario and Alberta as examples where government deficits are tied to downturns in a critical sector of the economy.
"The difference between us and Ontario is they have been dependent on one customer only, and that’s the United States," said Clark, adding B.C. has diversified its trade to a nearly even split between Asia and the U.S.
She said Alberta is also suffering right now because the global crash in oil commodity trading has left the government in crisis.
The remainder of Clark’s speech focused on reducing the province’s debt to GDP ratio, the numerous tax credits in the budget and the growth of trade. She also said personal income taxes in B.C. remain the lowest in Canada for families earning less than $120,000 a year.
"Some people asked, ‘what does this budget do for the middle class?’ Keeping taxes low."