Thank you, Honourable Speaker. It is a great privilege to stand before you as a member of a re-elected New Democrat government.
Many of you will recall the budget introduced the day the election campaign began ...
... with jobs up, taxes down, the budget balanced, and health and education protected.
A great deal of credit for that success is due to the determination and tenacity of my predecessor, former Finance Minister Elizabeth Cull.
Elizabeth Cull is a big part of why economists and bond rating agencies today recognize B.C. as having the strongest financial record in Canada - the top provincial credit rating, the lowest debt service costs and the lowest debt per capita in the country.
Together with the Premier, members of our caucus and, I'm sure, all members of the legislature, let me offer my congratulations and my thanks for a job well done.
The Premier made a commitment that an NDP government would reintroduce the April budget and make it law.
Equally, he made the commitment - during his campaign - that he would act on the concerns raised by ordinary British Columbians.
Today, Honourable Speaker, I am pleased to announce that we are meeting our commitments. We are reintroducing the budget. We are protecting health care and education. We are creating and protecting jobs. We are cutting taxes for middle-class families and small business.
And we are responding to people's concerns with concrete measures to reduce government spending and debt.
Our budget ensures that resources are targeted to where they are most needed. It ensures that services are protected and prosperity shared - throughout the cities, towns, and regions across this province.
The centrepiece of our budget is a tax cut for all British Columbians. On July 1st - Canada Day - the first phase of this personal income tax cut takes effect.
The tax cut is a modest one - a reduction of one point. But it will be followed by a further one point income tax cut in 1997. And it will be supported by a freeze on all other taxes for individuals and families until the year 2000.
In other words ... no tax increases. And no new taxes.
The budget also freezes BC Hydro rates, ICBC premiums and college and university fees.
Together, these measures demonstrate whose side this government is on - middle-class working people and their families. The average family will save up to $500 thanks to these tax cuts and rate freezes.
Working families with modest incomes will further benefit from the BC Family Bonus. As a result of all these measures, a single parent with two young children and an annual income of $30,000 will be better off by up to $700 a year.
Our budget includes other good news for homeowners and first-time home buyers.
We've extended the home owner grant threshold to ensure 96 per cent of B.C. homeowners receive the full grant.
And we're raising the property transfer tax threshold so that more first-time home buyers will be exempt from the tax. This will mean savings of up to $3,500 on the purchase of their home.
This budget also recognizes the important role of small business in our provincial economy. Dynamic and diverse, small business is central to our continued prosperity.
Effective this Monday, July 1, 1996, the small business income tax rate will be reduced 10 per cent.
In addition, a two-year income tax holiday will be introduced for eligible new small business.
Combined, these measures will save small business $29 million a year.
That's good news, Honourable Speaker. Good news for the small businesses in this province creating new jobs. And good news for the working people who are filling those jobs.
Our commitment, clearly, is to listen to the people of B.C. We have promised to act on their priorities, to be guided by their concerns, to respond to their needs. This budget demonstrates the depth and breadth of that commitment. Specifically:
Our budget accomplishes all this, Honourable Speaker, while projecting a surplus of $87 million and a reduction in total government debt of $99 million.
Indeed, that is the other side of the equation ... a government that protects services through prudent use of its financial resources.
Our commitment is to maintain B.C.'s number one financial ranking in Canada. Through wise and judicious financial management, we will retain the top provincial credit rating, lowest debt service costs and lowest debt per capita in the country.
This ... despite the unfair and arbitrary cuts in transfer payments from Ottawa. In this fiscal year, we will lose $435 million in support for health care, post-secondary education and social services. And next year, the cuts will total $731 million.
Yet, we will not let B.C. health care and education systems suffer from Ottawa's misplaced priorities. Rather, we have chosen to protect our services by reducing the size and cost of government.
In this budget, as we announced in April:
So, Honourable Speaker, our government is cutting the size and cost of government, while protecting services and targeting priorities.
Having provided highlights of the budget, Honourable Speaker, I will not go into as much depth in providing the details as was done in April.
I would like, however, to elaborate on a key area, as identified by the people of B.C. And that is the issue of jobs - the number one priority of British Columbians and of this government.
We've worked hard in B.C. to have the best record of job growth in the country over the past five years. And that record continues.
According to Statistics Canada, 34,000 new jobs have been created in B.C. since December.
Over the past few months, the Premier has announced a number of new initiatives. These initiatives will mean thousands of new jobs for working men and women.
In March, he set the target of 21,000 more forest sector jobs through a Jobs and Timber Accord in partnership with the industry.
In April, he launched a plan to expand B.C.'s value-added wood manufacturing sector that will help meet that target.
It will mean getting more value and jobs from every tree cut in British Columbia.
The Premier has also announced initiatives to create new jobs in the energy sector, in environmental technologies, and in tourism.
Much of the Premier's and government's attention in recent months has been on the crisis in the salmon fishery.
We have to find a way to protect the fish resource, as well as workers and communities that rely on it. And we have to maximize the number of B.C. jobs from each fish caught.
We're working with everyone in the industry to do that. But Ottawa, rather than contributing to a solution, is worsening the problem.
The Mifflin Plan makes no sense. It kills jobs. It does nothing to conserve the resource.
We took that message to Ottawa. We used plain, strong language.
We made it clear that British Columbians want a larger say in the fisheries. We made it clear that we would accept nothing less than action to conserve the resource and protect the communities and jobs that depend on it.
We need a strategy designed by British Columbians, for British Columbians ... so we can conserve fish, protect jobs and fishing communities. And we intend on doing exactly that, as we develop such a strategy in the months ahead.
We will also introduce a comprehensive jobs plan for British Columbia - bringing together business, working people, communities and government.
Its goal: building on B.C.'s success in protecting and creating jobs to ensure there are good family-supporting jobs today and tomorrow.
Expanding job and education opportunities for youth will be a central part of that strategy.
And we've taken an important first step in that direction with the Guarantee for Youth - the most ambitious jobs and training initiative in the province's history.
After just a few short months, it is already showing results.
Through the Guarantee, we have already created more than 3,000 jobs through our student summer, environmental and science and technology initiatives.
Another 800 young people have participated in our workshops for young entrepreneurs. And hundreds more have applied to take part in stage two.
Two hundred jobs have already been created through the Opportunities '96 program. I know that some private sector employers feel there was inadequate consultation on this initiative. So, we're stepping up our efforts to work with business to connect young people with jobs.
I also know that British Columbia businesses, like all British Columbians, want these initiatives to succeed. And I believe, Honourable Speaker, that we have the confidence, the know-how, and the determination to ensure more jobs are created for our young people.
Honourable Speaker, everyone in this House knows that democracy is about dialogue.
Democracy is about listening to the people. It is about encouraging a conversation in which all can be heard, while striking a balance among different viewpoints.
It is about choosing goals ... and finding the common purpose that unites our province and the people who live here.
During the election campaign, the people of B.C. spoke.
Here is what this government heard:
Some may say these are conflicting objectives. But we believe - and I think British Columbians agree - that we can cut the cost of government without dismantling the quality services that B.C. families value so highly.
British Columbians rightly believe the province has a leadership role in health care, in education, in assisting those in need, and in supporting jobs and economic growth.
But British Columbians also know we can do this in better, less expensive ways.
We do not have to fall back on old practices in running government. Government does not always work as well as it should. Government is sometimes part of the problem ... instead of being part of the solution. Government does not have to be bigger in order to be better.
In other words, we can cut the cost of government without sacrificing the value that British Columbians get from government.
This government is listening. In response, we are taking immediate action to deal with the public's concern about the cost of government.
Today, I'm announcing a comprehensive review of all government programs.
We need to take a hard look at government and find a better way ... a smarter way of delivering services.
We need to look at every government program and ask ourselves two questions: Do we need this? And is there a better way to do it?
Through this review, we will streamline bureaucracy, increase government efficiency, and cut costs.
We will ensure that this government serves the public interest, not the interest of bureaucracy.
We will focus our resources where they're most needed and best applied.
Leaner government, not meaner government. That's our commitment.
Honourable Speaker, British Columbians also told us very clearly they want to see us reduce the size of the debt. Today, I'm announcing new action that will do exactly that.
Effective immediately, I am freezing all new capital spending. The purpose of the freeze is to undertake a review of capital spending.
Those projects which are under construction or legally committed to will be allowed to continue to completion. All other capital spending is frozen.
The objectives of the review are to reduce capital spending and the related debt, while ensuring that we make the investments necessary to support British Columbian's priorities.
Upon completion of the review, we will then allow new capital projects to proceed ... but only at a pace and level that is affordable.
British Columbians understand the need to invest in schools and hospitals and the infrastructure necessary for jobs and economic growth. But they also expect government to make the tough decisions to keep debt under control.
This government is listening - and we're taking action today.
Honourable Speaker, the budget I am delivering today marks the beginning of a new mandate - and an appropriate time to assess both our progress to date, and our direction for the future.
We spent the four and one-half years of our first mandate working to eliminate the $2.4-billion deficit that previous administrations had built up.
The challenge of this mandate is to turn now to lowering the debt itself - while protecting health care and education.
We do not shrink from that challenge. We welcome it. It's a challenge that demands tough choices and hard work. But it is a challenge well worth pursuing.
British Columbians deserve to know their tax dollars are supporting vital services and investment in economic growth. They deserve to know their province's finances are healthy and sound.
And most of all, they deserve to know that politicians are listening to them. That the people they elect are bringing the voices of British Columbians to government - not the other way around.
This government is listening to British Columbians. We are responding to their priorities.
We are making the choices that protect health care and education. Create and protect jobs. Give a break to middle-class families and small businesses. And reduce the provincial debt.
These are the right choices for today. But more important, they are the right choices for tomorrow.
At a time when so many provinces are slashing, at a time when Ottawa is dismantling so much of what we have built together, one province is showing all of Canada that there is another way.
Our province. British Columbia.
We are showing this country that we can have a sound financial base and still protect health care and education. That we can reduce the debt, and still work hard to create and protect jobs. That by taking a balanced approach, by listening to the people we serve, government can make a real contribution to a better future.
This is Canada's province of hope. And the work we do today will help ensure that our children inherit a province with opportunity and promise for all.
That is the challenge that I accept with this budget. And I look forward to working with the members of this legislature, and with all British Columbians, to meet that challenge.
To honour the confidence,
... to engage the energy,
... to realize the possibility ... that is British Columbia.
BC Ministry of Finance and Corporate Relations
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