In a bid to overcome skepticism about the B.C. government's balanced-budget record, Premier Christy Clark says the new budget that will be introduced on Thursday will be backed up by a tougher law to ensure the fiscal plan really will be in the black.
The Speech from the Throne, read on Wednesday, repeats a number of Liberal campaign promises including that this week's budget will be in surplus. But, after the Liberals twice watered down the existing balanced-budget law to accommodate deficits, the Clark government now plans to firm up the toothless legislation.
"To ensure that future budgets are balanced, your government will toughen the balanced-budget law," the speech read by Lieutenant-Governor Judith Guichon stated. No details were provided.
The post-election Throne Speech also pledged to accelerate the government's jobs plan, freeze the carbon tax and personal tax rates for five years, and boost skills training efforts.
The Premier was on the sidelines during the speech – although her government won re-election on May 14, she is still seeking a seat in the House in a by-election. Ms. Clark held a news conference at a construction site just outside the provincial capital earlier in the day to outline her agenda.
The event provided a familiar backdrop for the Premier, who wore a hardhat and safety vest as she did a number of times during the recent election campaign. Standing in front of the concrete shell of what is to be a seniors' care facility, Ms. Clark said she wanted to underscore the importance of the jobs agenda.
"I like being here because it reminds me of all the benefits of a growing economy," she told reporters.
"These men behind me wouldn't be working and this building wouldn't be going up … if we didn't have a growing economy."
Despite the repeated commitment in the Throne Speech to eliminate B.C.'s debt over time through the pursuit of a new liquefied natural gas industry, Ms. Clark faced criticism for her government's record on debt creation.
The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation announced Wednesday it is rolling out a new B.C. debt clock. In the 10 minutes that Ms. Clark spent talking to reporters at the construction site, the province slid another $120,000 into debt, according to the spending watchdog.
"You don't turn a supertanker around in a day," Ms. Clark responded. "It's going to take us a little while to get all that spending that went up in 2008, 2009, back under control."
NDP Leader Adrian Dix attacked the Throne Speech, saying it is full of promises around job creation and debt control that are disconnected from reality.
"Getting the job done on a jobs plan, getting the job done on building infrastructure, getting the job done on skills training, requires more than wearing a hard hat," he told reporters. "It requires actual government policies that will promote those things."
The jobs plan was launched by Ms. Clark in the fall of 2011, promising to make B.C. the top province in job creation. But it has delivered mixed success. Over the past year, Statistics Canada reports that employment rates have declined slightly in B.C.
The Throne Speech promises to push harder on job creation "not just in the natural gas industry, but across all of B.C.'s most competitive export sectors."
It emphasized that economic growth requires partnerships with First Nations and skills training opportunities.