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B.C. New Democrats vow to balance budget in face of ‘real Liberal deficit’

B.C. NDP finance critic Bruce Ralston, MLA for Surrey-Whalley, answers reporter’s questions following the budget speech at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Feb. 19, 2013.

Chad Hipolito/The Globe and Mail

B.C. New Democrats say that they will balance the budget within four years if they win the May provincial election.

For some time, the governing B.C. Liberals have been urging the opposition to be candid about their policy plans. In a news conference Thursday, the NDP finance critic and platform co-chair said the party will release a fiscal framework next week that will detail the NDP map of sources of revenue as well as spending commitments. Further details on their commitment will be laid out April 17 when the party begins rolling out its full platform.

Bruce Ralston, the finance critic, said the fiscal plan will show how revenue measures will match proposed spending. However, he echoed NDP Leader Adrian Dix in promising a minimalist agenda both in the party's bid to win votes, and should the NDP win the election.

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"We won't be able to do everything people want. Certainly we sense a pent-up demand for change in how things are done in British Columbia. We won't be able to satisfy every request or desire," he told reporters.

Of the platform, he said: "Our platform will be modest. Our funding sources will be identified. I think that's what the public is looking for in the post-HST world."

Release of the full platform will begin a day after campaigning starts for the May 14 provincial election. At this point, the New Democrats have a substantial lead in the polls.

While the Liberals have called for NDP policy clarity, the New Democrats have disputed Liberal claims that the budget, tabled in February, is balanced.

On Thursday, the New Democrats alleged a 2013-14 deficit of $790-million. They said it will rise to $847-million in 2014-15 and drop to $452-million in 2015-16. The NDP says the Liberals have been unrealistic about the value of asset sales and their planned growth in expenditures.

Mr. Ralston said that if the New Democrats form government, they will table a budget in the fall, and also launch a fiscal review of government finances.

Throughout Thursday's briefing, Mr. Ralson and platform co-chair Carole James, the former party leader, used the label "real Liberal deficit" – a tag likely to be often repeated in the campaign.

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Ms. James described the NDP approach as being "up front with the voters" in contrast to 2009 when then-Liberal leader Gordon Campbell forecast a $495-million deficit during the election campaign that the Liberals pegged at $2.8-billion after they were re-elected with a majority.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong dismissed the NDP's assessment as "lame criticism designed to divert attention away from what the NDP don't want to talk about." He noted that on the same day the NDP was attacking the credibility of his budget, the Moody's bond rating agency confirmed the province's triple-A credit rating.

"I get what is at play here – the NDP find themselves in a situation where of course they want to spend more, they are going to need to tax people more," he told reporters. Before the New Democrats reveal those details, they want to discount the Liberal budget, he added.

He said the rate of spending increases that the NDP has deemed reasonable would amount to an additional $2.3-billion over the next three years.

"British Columbians deserve better," he said.

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