B.C. finance minister Mike de Jong was in town to speak to members of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce about the new provincial budget at a special luncheon at the Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel on Friday.
While admitting the budget wasn’t exciting or “glitzy,” de Jong highlighted the fact his Liberal government has “scrimped and scraped” to balance the books, as it were.
He said the government has “exercised discipline” and tightened belts in terms of new spending.
De Jong also acknowledged that increases to personal income tax, increases to corporate tax, increases to MSP premiums and the sale of government land has helped B.C. balance the budget.
Before taking questions from the floor, de Jong asked the chamber members to consider the budget as an “honest and credible one.”
One chamber member asked why the tax on alcohol wasn’t increased instead of raising MSP premiums.
An increase of $2.4 billion in healthcare costs was one of the reasons given by de Jong.
The chamber’s chair, Barry Grabowski, said he was fairly satisfied with de Jong’s explanations on a budget that “raised many questions.”
“He gave some rational thoughts on items within the budget,” said Grabowski.
“Businesses never like to see tax increases, but it was coming on the horizon from last year.
“But the corporate tax increase is not a small business tax, which would have affected most of our members.”
Grabwoski said most of the chamber members will have more to worry about with the return of the PST, after the HST debacle and subsequent withdrawal.
“If anything, I’m grateful they’re not trying to spend their way to an election victory,” added Grabowski.
“As a small business owner myself, I can’t spend what I don’t have in order to succeed.”
Local political commentator Sacha Peter labeled last week’s announcement as “part budget, part budget election platform.
“The bulk of the budget was balanced through asset sales, which is balanced in an accounting sense, but in an economic sense, it’s very artificial,” said Peter.
To his mind, this was the first time the BC Liberals have explicitly raised both personal and corporate income taxes, said Peter.
“That did surprise me, even though they’re saying it’s temporary.
The same move was temporary back in World War I, and we know how that went.”
A big change, added Peter, was that the budget is mostly dated to kick in on 2014 — a shot, of sorts, across the bow of NDP leader Adrian Dix to follow it through, should his party win the election.
Peter forecasted the budget would harm the BC Liberals more than it helps.
“There were the usual vote-grabbing promises,” he added. “But it’s definitely a left-wing budget.
“I think the income tax increases will hit the base of the party, who will just not even come out to vote.”