British Columbia

Finance minister expects B.C. to lead country in economic growth

B.C.'s finance mnister sat down with CBC Radio's Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition to discuss what the 2019 budget means for British Columbians and whether or not the province is prepared for threats to financial instability.

Carole James sat down with Stephen Quinn on CBC's The Early Edition to discuss the 2019 budget

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James outlines Budget 2019 to reporters in Victoria on Tuesday, Feb 19, 2019. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

The provincial government unveiled its budget this week. Some of the highlights touted by the province include low-income subsides for families, increases to income assistance and interest- free student loans.

Finance Minister, Carole James said these are all initiatives aimed at making B.C. more affordable for Canadians. She sat down with CBC Radio's Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition to discuss their impact.

You are forecasting a $374 million surplus for the current fiscal year and a $274 million surplus for 2019/2020. But this is based on ICBC's billion-dollar deficit being eliminated, property transfer taxes remaining stable and wildfire costs going down. How does the government figure that all these things will happen?

Well, there's also prudence on top of that built into the budget, and I believe that's important. 

So over $1.5 billion in contingencies are allocated in the budget for those kinds of challenges. We've made some changes that are going to take effect this year. We expect that there will be significant savings for the ratepayers and for ICBC.

We're also seeing very strong economic growth in British Columbia. We're expected to continue to lead the country once again in the next two years.

I see this budget being balanced fiscally which is important, but also balanced in its approach and investing in people which will help us build that strong economy.

But the last two wildfire seasons have been the worst on record. The housing market is slowing down. And we know all about ICBC's financial troubles. How can you count on any of these things?

Well, in fact, if you take a look at the biggest risk to our economy, it really was a speculative real estate market. Everybody predicted that was not going to continue to sustain our economic growth.

We've shown that, in fact, the investments we're making in diversifying our economy,  the investments we're making in housing and child care are helping to strengthen our economy. So, addressing the housing market and looking at those issues is a support to our economic growth, not a challenge.

It's something that's critically important if we're going to look at long term sustainable growth.

What have you budgeted for wildfire costs?

We've budgeted $101 million, so up from the previous year based on the last number of years of forest fires.

We've also put money into support for communities for restoration, for clearing to make sure that we do the prevention work, because that's really how we're going to address that.

 In addition to the contingencies, we have a billion dollars in the forecast allowance that's across the board and that allows us statutorily to use the dollars if we need to to fight fires. So, the money is there.

Housing has been a big preoccupation of your government. You promised a renter's rebate when you were campaigning. There is again no sign of it in this budget. Are we ever going to see it?

It's a piece we're working on with our minority parliament partners. The Green Party has a difference of opinion around the renters rebate. So, we're continuing to work on that with our Green caucus.

But we've made some differences already for tenants.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Click below to hear the full interview with B.C. Finance Minister Carole James:

With files from The Early Edition

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