The B.C. government ended the last fiscal year with a $2.7-billion surplus but finance minister Carole James the province is still taking a cautious approach.
A release of the public accounts for the fiscal year show B.C.’s books were in good standing thanks in part to an increase in taxation and revenue generated by the hot housing market and foreign buyer’s tax. James says the province can’t rely solely on those.
“Taking a look at what are one-time increases that aren’t usual that you can’t count on, and then looking at pressures like B.C. wildfires and then simply all the challenges we face as a government and trying to build back, whether it’s education or support… I’m very cautious going ahead,” James said Tuesday.
The outlook isn’t as pleasant for ICBC. Unaudited numbers of the province’s public accounts show ICBC lost $612 million for the fiscal year ending in March. James didn’t pull any punches on the current state of the Crown corporation.
“The financial sustainability of ICBC, I think, I don’t need to mention to all of you the challenges that are there,” she said.
“ICBC continues to be a real challenge and has substantial deficits it has had for the last couple years.”
When pressed on when the NDP would begin removing bridge tolls James said, “stay tuned, stay tuned, soon.”
Unaudited numbers show TI Corp, which operates tolls for the Port Mann and Golden Ears Bridges, pulled in $151 million in revenue but took on $232 million in expenses.
The accounts also show a $3.4-billion increase in revenue over what was forecast and spending that was $1.3 billion higher than the budget had outlined.
Under the Budget Transparency and Accountability Act, the surplus will be applied to the provincial operating debt.
The government collected $2.8 billion more than it expected in taxes, including $1.5 billion more than expected from personal income taxes.
The province’s GDP grew by an estimated 3.7 per cent in 2016, and James says private-sector forecasts expect B.C. to be among the top provincial economic performers in 2017 and 2018.
The Liberals released an unaudited financial update in June that pegged the surplus at $2.8 billion.
James says the government will present a “budget” update on September 11 and is promising a balanced budget.
“That’s part of my mandate letter and it will be part of the budget that’ll come forward in September,” she said.
“The forecast is for continued economic growth, and certainly it’s a positive from my perspective.”
She hinted the full fiscal plan will be delivered in February.