Budget 2000
Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations
Honourable Paul Ramsey, Minister
This electronic version is for informational purposes only.
The printed version remains the official version.



Much has been written about the accumulation of provincial debt. However, what is often omitted is a recognition of the capital assets underlying much of this debt. This topic box discusses the value of provincial assets.

Capital Investments

The provincial government and its Crown corporations and agencies borrow funds to finance operations and capital projects. Borrowing for operations is required when revenues fall short of expenditures and to meet other cash requirements, such as loans and investments. Borrowing also finances the building of schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities, roads, dams and other forms of provincial infrastructure. These investments provide essential services today, and will also benefit generations of British Columbians in the future.

The need for capital infrastructure in British Columbia is substantial. Maintaining the existing asset base, replacing ageing infrastructure, and meeting the needs of a changing population all require capital spending. Infrastructure also supports economic activity in the province.

The following chart provides a breakdown of the various uses of accumulated net debt. Roughly $22 billion or almost 70 per cent of total provincial net debt (excluding the warehouse borrowing program) reflects investments in capital assets.

Provincial Estimated Net Debt at March 31, 2000

Asset Valuation

There are various ways to calculate the value of provincial assets, and each method yields a different conclusion. The table at the end of this topic box presents four conventional ways of assessing the value of assets: historical cost, net book value, replacement cost and net debt outstanding. Market valuations are difficult to establish as true market conditions usually do not apply to many Crown assets.

Historical cost — represents the actual amount of money spent to acquire provincial assets. This value is estimated to be $45 billion at March 31, 2000.

Net book value — this method presents the historical cost of assets, net of accumulated depreciation expenses. The net book value of assets is presented annually in the Public Accounts. A preliminary estimate for the net book value of provincial assets as of March 31, 2000 is $29 billion.

Replacement cost — while net book value provides an historical perspective of asset costs, the replacement cost method estimates how much it would cost today to acquire the same assets under current economic conditions. There is no one method for determining replacement cost values, and a number of techniques have been used to arrive at the estimates shown in the table (e.g. using insured values). Based on these estimates, it could cost $140 billion to replace existing provincial assets at today's typical construction costs.

Net debt outstanding — represents the amount of funds borrowed by the government and its Crown corporations and agencies, net of accounting adjustments and accumulated sinking funds set aside for debt repayment. At March 31, 2000, total provincial net debt is forecast to be $34 billion. The amounts presented in the table include debt incurred to finance operations as well as to acquire capital assets. As noted earlier, $22 billion of total provincial net debt reflects investments in capital assets.

Asset Valuation Methods Comparison

The information presented in this topic box is based on various assumptions. The table is intended to illustrate the different valuations that could result depending on the assumptions and valuation method used. Clearly, the value of assets is higher under the replacement cost method simply because the cost of replacing assets is much larger at today's prices, while replacement cost does not reflect the deterioration of ageing facilities.

The table shows that total provincial net debt outstanding, excluding operational debt and the warehouse borrowing program, is lower than the value of the assets. This is because much of the debt associated with older assets has been retired while the productive capability of the asset continues.

It should be recognized that the estimates used in the table are, by their nature, very approximate. Other valuation techniques and assumptions could have been used, such as using statistical data to remove the effect of inflation over the years, but these more sophisticated methods would have been impractical for the added precision achieved.


Even with more precise valuation methods, the analysis would show that:

1. A large part of provincial debt is backed up by physical assets of significant value.
2. $22 billion or almost 70 per cent of total provincial debt (excluding warehouse borrowing) has financed capital investments of the government and its Crown corporations and agencies. The remaining $12.3 billion consists of borrowing to fund annual public services, as well as $1.4 billion for funds borrowed in advance of future requirements through the warehouse borrowing program.
3. Whether historical cost, net book value or replacement cost methods are used, asset values exceed the amount of the underlying debt of $22 billion.
4. These assets continue to provide valuable services to the public.

Major Provincial Assets and Net Debt Summary1
Estimates as at March 31, 2000

Provincial Assets


Net book
Net Debt
$ millions
Schools — 1,777 public schools for the education of over 600,000 students 6,903 3,717 8,600 3,636
Universities/colleges — six universities, five university-colleges, 11 community colleges, and six institutes and agencies that provide specialized education and training for 143,000 full-time equivalent students 4,095 2,477 5,500 1,365
Health facilities — over 700 hospitals and health facilities including acute care, continuing care and mental health facilities 4,496 2,243 8,400 1,439
Office buildings — over 3,600 buildings with almost 2.5 million square metres of space in over 260 communities to supply the needs of government ministries and other publicly-funded organizations (including courts and correctional facilities) 1,500 941 2,100 610
Roads — 23,200 kilometres of paved highways, 18,200 kilometres of unpaved highways and 2,700 bridges 6,100 5,861 66,500 1,834
Public transit — rapid transit infrastructure in the Lower Mainland and bus systems in 50 other communities 2,068 1,642 2,000 1,634
Ferries — 43 ferries and 45 marine terminals to service coastal British Columbia 1,411 676 2,700 1,1102
Other — equipment and capital assets of ministries, and certain capital contributions to Crown corporations, agencies, commissions, etc.3 1,777 1,045 5,600 13,2762,4

Totals for taxpayer-supported entities

28,350 18,602 101,400 24,904
Power generation — 30 hydroelectric and three thermal generating facilities with a generating capacity of 11,045 megawatts to deliver electricity via more than 73,000 kilometres of transmission and distribution lines 14,310 9,388 35,000 7,085
Railways — 2,300 kilometres of mainline railway tracks, 127 locomotives, 9,500 freight cars, 19 tunnels and 191 bridges 1,820 1,165 2,300 623
Skeena Cellulose Inc. 181 154 1,100 284
Other — warehoused debt, other agencies 505 195 600 1,360

Totals for self-supported entities

16,816 10,902 39,000 9,352


45,166 29,504 140,400 34,256
Less: net debt related to operating deficits and warehouse borrowing — — — (12,253)


45,166 29,504 140,400 22,003
1 Assets only include properties and capital infrastructure that the government has purchased or otherwise acquired. The province does have significantly more assets in terms of its Crown lands, forests and sub-surface rights, none of which are presented here.
2 Amounts include net debt to finance operating deficits.
3 Capital contributions mainly consist of grants for social housing and grants to the B.C. Pavilion Corporation.
4 Includes a portion of roads infrastructure debt incurred prior to 1994/95, the amount for which cannot be practically estimated. After 1994/95, debt for road capital construction was incurred by the BC Transportation Financing Authority and is shown as the amount of current debt outstanding for roads.

Copyright © 2000: Queen’s Printer, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada