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Premier Christy Clark plays with children at a day care in Vancouver on Wednesday. who could not be identified as the daycare refused to provide names for children in attendance, at the Dorothy Lam Children's Centre before an announcement in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday February 20, 2013. Clark announced the creation of a provincial early years office, a provincewide network of early years centres, a new child tax benefit and more child-care spaces. DARRYL DYCK FOR THE GLOBE AND MAILDARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says she's expecting an election focused on "values" instead of "promises" as voters go to the polls in mid-May.

Ms. Clark, whose B.C. Liberals are running far behind the opposition New Democrats in the polls, offered the prediction Wednesday in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade as well as a subsequent news conference.

"I think citizens look as hard at values as they do at promises. I think this election is going to be about what we value as people, what we value as leaders, what principles define us," Ms. Clark told reporters a day after delivering the budget.

"It's values, principles and character that are going to define this election. It's not going to be promises. British Columbians have been down that road before and I don't think they want to do down that road again."

She said the budget tabled this week is unusual for an election year. "There is not a goodie bag in sight," Ms. Clark told members of the board of trade.

Values voting has been common in U.S. campaigns focused on social issues, but in Ms. Clark's case, she seemed to be referring to fiscal-prudence values, such as respect for taxpayer dollars and balanced budgets.

The reference to values as a currency in the coming election surprised some observers, who said it appeared to be a shift by a political leader who has sought support with various tacks, including a focus on families, a jobs agenda and an appeal to disaffected conservative voters.

Political scientist Hamish Telford said Ms. Clark's remarks were oddly consistent with the approach of NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who has promised a prudent, practical approach to government with a sympathetic ear for stakeholders, but necessarily a lot of money for programs.

"In the big picture, [the values argument] represents the party trailing and trying different things to see what tack gains some traction," said the professor at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Pollster Mario Canseco said it all appears to be a new approach in recent B.C. politics. "We never heard Gordon Campbell talking about values," he said.

Mr. Canseco, a vice-president with Angus Reid Public Opinion, said it appears B.C. voters are going to be less swayed by values, and more focused on credibility.

The Liberals have declared the budget balanced with a surplus built on such measures as a temporary two-year increase in tax rates for those earning more than $150,000 as well as a 1-per-cent increase in the corporate-tax rate.

Ms. Clark noted she is among the 60,000 British Columbians who pay taxes on income on or above $150,000, but that 97 per cent will continue to pay Canada's lowest personal income taxes. She wryly said she and others were among the "3 per cent."

The budget includes a $197-million surplus, compared to a $1.2-billion deficit in the fiscal year now ending.

Iain Black, a former B.C. Liberal MLA who now heads the board of trade, told reporters the organization was pleased with Ms. Clark's aversion to goody bags.

"It spoke to not taking the bait, not being seduced by the politics of the moment," Mr. Black said. The board gave the budget an overall B-plus grade largely because there was no increase in the small-business tax.