B.C.’s finance minister says tomorrow’s provincial budget will not ignore the rural parts of the province.
At the same time, Katrine Conroy, also signaled that the financial good times might be coming to an end.
“We care about rural B.C.,” Conroy said. “Rural B.C. will not be forgotten in this budget and I can guarantee that.”
Conroy, who represents the riding of Kootenay West, made that promise during a pre-budget photo opportunity Monday (Feb. 27) at Ruth King Elementary School in the Victoria suburb of Langford, one of the fastest growing regions in Canada.
Conroy will present the provincial budget tomorrow (Feb. 28) a little more than 100 days after the NDp government of Premier David Eby assumed office following the departure of former premier John Horgan.
Conroy’s promise of rural support comes amidst criticism her government focuses too much on the urban parts of the province. She tried to dissuade this impression by focusing on a rural keystone: forestry.
“I believe we have already sent a message to the forestry industry that we are supporting them, that we are supporting companies to re-manufacture their plants that they can actually do more value-added work as opposed to utilizing old-growth (forest) for instance,” she said while pointing to a number of programs aimed at getting more value out of available fibre.
While sparse on details, Conroy said the province will continue to spend money in a way that we will make what she called “meaningful” difference in housing, health care and public safety.
To this end, Conroy said the budget will have have more to say about the long-promised, long-delayed renter’s rebate. Other adjustments include the final federal health care contribution under yet-to-be finalized bilateral agreements.
B.C. last November reported a budget surplus of $5.7 billion. But recent weeks have seen a rash of significant spending announcements, drawing questions about the long-term financial health of the province.
“We believe that surplus money that we are spending right now, we are spending on people,” Conroy said. “Even though we have a surplus this year, we…are thinking that we will probably have some deficits in the coming years. This is bit of an anomaly, this year’s surplus.”
“So we will spending surplus dollars probably right up to March 31 and any dollars that are left at the end of that will be go towards the debt.”
Prior to speaking to reporters, Conroy helped served a lunch of meat loaf, greens and potatoes with blueberry muffins and fruit as dessert to Grade 1 and Grade 5 students.
When asked what if any message she was trying to send with the lunch menu, Conroy said she didn’t choose it, but also called it “practical.”
She also revealed that she won’t be following a budget tradition.
“My plan is I am very frugal. I didn’t buy any new shoes. I did polish my shoes yesterday, so they will be spiffy for the budget.”