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Clark says Canada depending on B.C. for growth as political climate heats up

FILE PHOTO
February 08, 2016 - 6:30 PM

VICTORIA - Premier Christy Clark says her government is returning to the legislature determined to stick to its big-picture goals of pursuing a liquefied natural gas industry and completing the $9-billion Site C hydroelectric dam.

The British Columbia Liberal government will lay out its plans in Tuesday's throne speech, just 15 months away from the next election. Clark's promises from the last election of a liquefied national gas bonanza haven't been realized so far, but the premier said B.C. is still the top performing economy in the country.

She said British Columbians can expect a fourth-consecutive balanced budget presented later this month and targeted funding for health, social and housing initiatives, but with the overriding perspective of steady growth.

The Royal Bank forecasts B.C.'s economy to lead Canada's growth rate this year at 3.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent in 2017. The B.C. government has forecast growth at 2.4 per cent this year.

Clark said those predictions are an added responsibility as other jurisdictions struggle with downturns and job losses.

"Canada really is depending on B.C. to perform because none of the other provinces are really able to make big contributions in terms of jobs and national revenues," she said.

The government is not prepared to take huge risks during uncertain economic times, she said.

"We will be making some new investments, frankly we haven't been able to make for a few years. You are going to see some things in the budget like support for home buyers in the Lower Mainland."

The government has said it was examining changing the thresholds for the property-purchase tax in order to help more first-time home buyers enter the market in Metro Vancouver where the average price for single-family detached homes in Greater Vancouver reached over $1.2 million.

Clark also suggested funding would be available for family social programs and medical costs.

"But it means sticking to the plan," she said. "It means sticking to our guns on the projects that we're embracing. It means sticking to our guns on LNG. Site C, we're going to make sure that happens and then we'll start to see, I hope, some of the benefits of the tech strategy."

Clark has been pursuing LNG as a new industry since she became Liberal leader in 2011, but it has failed to get past the planning stage.

Last week, Royal Dutch Shell delayed its final investment decision on a proposed multibillion-dollar LNG export terminal near Kitimat, on B.C.'s northwest coast.

The B.C. government has said that Petronas, a Malaysian state-backed energy giant, is awaiting federal cabinet approval of its proposed $36-billion LNG plant near Prince Rupert.

Opposition New Democrat Leader John Horgan said Clark's endorsements of B.C.'s economy on the national stage are not enthralling ordinary British Columbians.

"When people turn on the legislative channel and they hear the premier crowing about how great things are going, they say, 'where does she live?' She doesn't live in my neighbourhood," said Horgan.

The New Democrats will return to the legislature with two new MLAs after the byelection victories of Melanie Mark and Jodie Wickens in Metro Vancouver ridings on Feb. 2.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong said the coming session will see legislation that enshrines the recent agreement to protect 85 per cent of the forests in the Great Bear Rainforest from logging.

He said the government is also determined to make its maligned freedom-of-information process more accessible.

B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner highlighted in a report last year negligent searches for records, failure to keep adequate email records, and the wilful destruction of records in response to freedom of information requests.

"Those documents deserve to be in the public domain," said de Jong.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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