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Government spending, deficit to rise in B.C. provincial budget: minister

Click to play video: 'Finance minister promises relief during B.C. budget preview'
Finance minister promises relief during B.C. budget preview
Finance Minister Katrine Conroy spoke Wednesday morning about promising financial relief for British Columbians in Thursday's budget – Feb 21, 2024

B.C. Finance Minister Katrine Conroy provided a sneak peek at the priorities that will shape the 2024 budget on Wednesday.

While Conroy eschewed details on what to expect in Thursday’s budget, she said the document will include an increase in both spending and the provincial deficit, calling it the “right thing to do.”

“We do have a slowing economy. The global economy is slowing as well, so we are not unique to any jurisdiction,” Conroy said.

“It is not the right time to make cuts to people, it is not the right time to make cuts to services, it is not the right time to raise taxes.”

Click to play video: 'How British Columbians are cutting costs at the grocery store'
How British Columbians are cutting costs at the grocery store

Conroy stopped short, however, of pledging no new taxes. Asked specifically about the possibility of a new tax on house flipping, the minister stressed the tax burden would not increase for “ordinary British Columbians.”

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She also hinted at relief for small business owners.

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“We are looking at a number of initiatives that we feel small businesses will be pleased with,” Conroy said.

Conroy wouldn’t comment on whether the budget will look at lifting the payroll threshold under which a company is required to pay into the Employer Health Tax, a key ask from the province’s business community.

Conroy said the government’s priorities haven’t changed, and that Thursday’s budget will take aim at cost-of-living concerns, new housing and strengthening access to child care.

The provincial budget is expected to focus heavily on housing, and the government’s speech from the throne on Tuesday pledged action to help first-time homebuyers. The province is also in the early stages of rolling out its new multi-billion-dollar BC Builds program aimed at promoting more rental construction.

Click to play video: 'Housing affordability a focal point of B.C. throne speech'
Housing affordability a focal point of B.C. throne speech

BC United finance critic Peter Milobar said the minister’s budget preview raised several major concerns.

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“There does not appear to be any effort from this government to rein in the taxation that everyday British Columbians are starting to face, and the critical squeeze it is putting on their household budgets,” he said.

“What we are seeing now is with 30 new or increased taxes since this government has taken office, 20 billion extra in taxation … it’s not sustainable. This government doesn’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending problem.”

British Columbia’s latest fiscal update reported a 2023 operating deficit of $5.6 billion, down from an earlier projection of $6.67 billion.

At the time, the Finance Ministry forecasted economic growth of one per cent in 2023, falling to 0.7 per cent in 2024.

That same document projected a total provincial debt of $101.6 billion, $69.3 billion of which was supported by taxpayers.

Thursday’s budget will be unveiled Thursday afternoon, and will be the government’s final budget before the October provincial election.

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