VANCOUVER - Premier Christy Clark has announced millions of dollars in funding for projects ranging from crime and forest-fire prevention to jump-starting rural economies.
The promises made Friday to delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver are part of an effort to "pay back a dividend" to the people of B.C., said Clark.
The premier also touted her government's three consecutive balanced budgets and reiterated an earlier promise to eliminate its operating debt in four years, something that hasn't been done since 1975.
"That is where a debt-free British Columbia begins," she said. "That is how we begin to be able to endow our children with a province that is unburdened by decisions that our generations and generations before us made but couldn't afford to pay for."
Clark said the province would contribute up to $10 million to a fund that helps communities prevent wildfires, bringing that total investment to $78 million since 2004.
The lesson from the recent devastating wildfire season was one the province would "regret forgetting," she said.
Clark said the National Research Council in the U.S. estimated that for every degree the temperature rises, about four times as much land will burn in North America's west.
"We can all hope that we are wrong, that they are wrong. But worrying about that will not help," she said. "The only thing that will change that is if we decide to lead ... in the fight against climate change and the fight to make sure our communities are safe from forest fires."
She also touted a new $5-million investment to target prolific, violent and gang-affiliated offenders and address the roots of crime through education and outreach.
Surrey and Delta have experienced dozens of shootings this year that police have connected to a turf war among low-level drug dealers.
Clark said some of the new funds would go to the "successful" Surrey Wrap Project, which helps at-risk youth stay out of gangs.
She said the province must deprive criminals of their most important resource — children.
"It's like stealing their oxygen. If we can take children away from gangs, we can stop gangs from growing in our communities."
Clark also said more than 70 communities would benefit from a new program to expand high-speed Internet access in rural and remote areas.
The premier received a standing ovation after announcing an investment of up to $75 million to help reinvigorate the economies of rural communities with populations less than 25,000 people.
Communities will be able to apply for funding to build their economies and create opportunities so youth will remain in and return to rural areas.
Selina Robinson, Opposition New Democrat critic for local government, told reporters after the premier's speech that Surrey residents are still waiting for a promised 100 new RCMP officers.
The federal government is responsible for funding the officers, but the province forwarded the request to Ottawa on behalf of the city.
"We see the gang warfare and all of the activities of gangs and the impact it's having on the Surrey community," said Robinson. "(Clark) talked about the great success that is happening right now in Surrey, and that hasn't materialized."
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