B.C. government announces unaudited $2.8B surplus on eve of confidence vote

Finance Minister Mike de Jong has delivered an update to B.C.’s books showing a $2.8-billion surplus. He made the announcement at a press conference Wednesday morning.

In what may be one of his last acts as Finance Minister, Mike de Jong has delivered an update to B.C.’s books showing a $2.8-billion surplus.

That’s $1.3 billion more than was forecast in the February budget, and comes on the heels of the more than $2.6 billion in new spending promises announced in the BC Liberals’ throne speech last week.

The accounts have yet to be certified by the province’s auditor general.

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The update comes just a day before a crucial confidence vote in the Legislature, in which the NDP and the Green Party say they will combine their votes to defeat the Liberals.

De Jong said the surprise windfall comes after stronger than expected economic growth – with GDP growing by 3.7 per cent, 1.3 per cent higher than forecast.

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De Jong said the province had also pulled in $2.8 billion more in taxes than forecast in the 2016 budget, including $1.5 billion in income tax, $305 million in PST, and $787 million in in property transfer tax.

LISTEN: How does the B.C. Government have a $2.8 billion surplus

The total provincial debt grew by $591 million to $65.9 billion, while the government’s preferred metric of taxpayer-supported debt – that is, debt linked to projects that don’t produce any revenue – shrank by $1.2 billion.

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De Jong also provided added clarity on the province’s throne speech promises, which the government has now priced at $2.6 billion over three years.

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He said those promises — which he claimed were all in the February budget, but at lower dollar values — are now affordable due to increases in provincial revenues and a decrease in operating debt.

The auditor general is expected to provide her report on the books some time next week.

In delivering the update, de Jong took a shot at the NDP, who could soon find itself in the driver’s seat.

“And I fear that — grateful isn’t the word — but as pleased as the new NDP administration will be to inherit this, they will quickly lose sight of what created this circumstance in the first place.”

That was a line NDP Finance Critic Carole James had little time for, adding it was hard to trust anything the government said.

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“Committing to things that they bashed and said weren’t possible all the way through the election before the election, through the election campaign, to do a complete about-face and now to come forward and say, ‘Look there’s all this money, everything’s great,’ I think just continues to stretch credibility,” she said.

Foreign buyers

De Jong also provided an update on foreign buyer activity in B.C. real estate, reporting that just 2.7 per cent of real estate purchases in the province were from out of country.

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In Metro Vancouver, he said it was 2.8 percent.

Although that tax appeared to slow down the market after its introduction last August, the effects appear to have waned, with sales picking up in recent months.