BY BILL PHILLIPS
British Columbia borrows to build, says Shirley Bond.
It’s how the province can present a balanced operating budget, but have the overall debt increase.
“We are positioned to retire our operating debt in the next two or three years,” she told about 100 people at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Friday. “Operating debt is where you put your groceries on your credit card. It’s that day-to-day expenditure.”
Then there’s the other kind of debt – capital expenditures.
“Yes, we have increased our debt on the capital debt side,” she said. “Critics will forget to tell you why. It’s because we borrow to build. We’re talking about new bridges, new roads, new highways. The place where we can add debt, is on the building side. So we paid off the operating debt, that crushing debt that drags all our interest costs … But we are going to continue to build in this province.”
Bond, who is also the jobs minister, said the province’s economic plan is working and the province has the track record to show for it.
“When we introduced our Jobs Plan in 2011, we were third in Canada in terms of economic growth,” she said. “Today, we’re first in the country.”
Same goes for job creation, she said, acknowledging that in 2009 the province was just climbing out of a recession that hit more than just this province.
“We have the lowest unemployment rate in the country and we’re not taking that for granted.”
Since 2011, a total of 222,200 new jobs have been created in the province, she said, pointing out the numbers come from Statistics Canada.
“You’re hearing that our job growth is part time and public sector,” she said. “I’m here to tell you, that’s not the case. Over 80 per cent of the jobs created and are private sector … We believe the best thing we can do for British Columbia is create the climate and opportunity to have a well-paying job.”
Bond acknowledged that the vast majority of those jobs, however, have been created in the Lower Mainland. Earlier this year the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a report pointing out that all the regions of B.C. other than the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island, lost jobs last year.
Earlier this month the province unveiled a rural economic development strategy which, Bond says, is designed to help areas of the province that are not experiencing job growth.
“Not every region of the province is feeling the same degree of benefit,” she said. “Whether it’s employment numbers, whether it’s economic growth, there are differences across British Columbia. We embrace that situation. It’s not something that we want to hide from or not talk about.”
That resulted in the rural economic development strategy, which contained some new funding and a slew of initiatives that had already been announced.
Targeted initiatives include $40 million to expand and enhance high-speed Internet and an extension of the $25-million Rural Dividend Fund, which was announced in the budget however the extension won’t actually kick in until 2019.
The rural economic strategy also includes: $10 million in 2017-18 for multi-year projects to manage invasive plant species and to replace Crown-owned range fencing; $150 million for the Forest Enhancement Society of British Columbia, which was announced last month, to plant trees. The $150 million is on top of the $85 million given to the society last year, which has so far approved $2.7 million, of the $235 million, in projects; begin phasing out provincial sales tax on electricity purchases by reducing it to 3.5 per cent on Oct. 1, 2017, and eliminating it by April 1, 2019; reduce the small business tax rate to two per cent from 2.5 per cent, effective April 2017.
“I think that’s responsible,” Bond said. “That governments recognize that there are challenges, that we need to concentrate additional supports, efforts and strategies in the areas where we can, and should, do better.”