Tight budget promised with few goodies for BC

Finance Minister Mike de Jong



VANCOUVER -- Wearing a pair of 35-year-old skates, BC Finance Minister Mike De Jong hit the ice Monday with a group of youth hockey players.

The on-ice activities were about setting the kids up for easy goals. On Tuesday, De Jong hopes to score big with his government's budget.

De Jong decided to break from tradition and wore the old pair of skates -- instead of the traditional new pair of shoes -- before the government announces its economic plans for the year.

Leading into an election, the budget is expected to be balanced with few goodies for taxpayers.

"It's tight. Achieving a balanced budget isn't easy," De Jong said at Victoria's Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, BC. "If it were, we wouldn't be one of the only jurisdictions in Canada poised to do it.

"People that are expecting large and extravagant spending promises will probably be disappointed."
Natural gas projections will be a big part of the budget.

To combat questions about credibility, the government hired Tim O'Neill, the former BMO chief economist, to review the forecasts.

O'Neill presented his review Monday, suggesting the government scale back forecasts for natural gas revenues by $70 million.

The price, according to the 20 main projectors in the world, has natural gas at $2.13 a gigajoule, the metric term used for measuring energy use.

"The range I suggested was between $1.80 and $1.90. It is reasonable to suppose prices will be higher than that," O'Neill said. "What you want to do in this context is build in the potential for positive surprises."

Previously, the BC NDP has raised questions about the government's ability to make credible projections.

Finance critic Bruce Ralston doesn't see how these issues are solved with the report from one economist.

"The government has a huge credibility gap," Ralston said. "They understand and believe the people of the province will not take them at their word and they are trying to fix that. I don't think they will be able to by (Tuesday)."

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