VICTORIA – British Columbians can expect financial benefits in the coming year thanks to the strongest performing economy in Canada, Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday.
In a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, Clark said the government expects money will be available to consider options including tax cuts, debt reductions, infrastructure projects and more support for the beleaguered Children’s Ministry.
Despite a strong economic performance this year, Clark said she’s been humbled by difficult issues involving the protection of children in care and criticism by the privacy commissioner about the government’s practice of deleting potentially sensitive emails.
The financial dividend does not signal her government is about to embark on a pre-election spending spree, but there is some added financial room.
“We have a chance to start making decisions about how we want to invest those dividends for people,” Clark said. “There are a lot of things we are now able to do that we weren’t necessarily able to do three years ago because we were in such rough financial shape.”
The Conference Board of Canada predicted this week that B.C. will lead the country in economic growth this year and in 2016. The board forecast 3.1 per cent economic growth for the province in 2015 and another 3.6 per cent next year.
One of the primary goals of Clark’s job plan, which she introduced in September 2011 shortly after becoming premier, was putting B.C. among the top two provinces in Canada in economic growth by 2015.
The B.C. government’s most recent financial update forecast two per cent economic growth this year and a budget surplus of $265 million.
Clark said she expected to see more spending for child and youth mental health, the Ministry of Children and Families, transit and to support small business.
The premier – whose Liberals are seeking their fifth consecutive mandate in May 2017 – would not discuss the amount of money the province believes it can spend.
“But what you will see is a dividend being returned to British Columbians,” she said. “That can come in many forms. A dividend in terms of debt reduction, that’s one thing we can do.”
Prior to the 2013 election campaign, Clark announced the creation of a prosperity fund that would accumulate revenues from the liquefied natural gas industry. She said the fund would be used to eliminate B.C.’s debt, currently at more than $60 billion, but there are no LNG plants yet in operation.
The care of vulnerable children and the government’s management of potentially sensitive information were nagging issues for her Liberal government this year.
The high-profile death of 18-year-old Alex Gervais, who fell from an Abbotsford hotel window, prompted a review by the government and the province’s independent representative for children and youth into the placement of foster children in hotels.
B.C.’s Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham issued a stinging report that made public the government’s practice of deleting emails connected to freedom-of-information requests.
The report highlighted negligent record searches, failures to document searches and the wilful destruction of records in response to information queries.
The issue arose when a whistleblower said his supervisor in the Transportation Ministry deleted emails from his computer about the investigation into murdered and missing women along the so-called Highway of Tears.
Clark ordered her cabinet ministers and all political staff to save their emails.
Clark said she expects a report next week from former B.C. privacy commissioner David Loukidelis to recommend modern approaches to the way the government manages its information.
“We got caught on the wrong side,” said Clark. “We fell behind… and now we have to catch up and stay ahead of it.”