Colin Hansen

‘Boring budget’ leaves lots of room for new premier

It’s been tagged the “boring budget” by the media, but B.C. Finance Minister Colin Hansen gave an upbeat, folksy overview of the province’s financial status to Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce members Thursday.“Sometimes boring is good,” Hansen said, at the chamber luncheon.But afterwards, he told reporters the 2011 budget contains no tax cuts, no big spending announcements, to give the new premier, who will be elected by the B.C. Liberal Party Saturday, “as much flexibility as possible to run the province for the coming year.”He said it would be “inappropriate” to tie the hands of the new premier with any big budget promises.Still, the minister painted a rosy picture of the provincial economy under the BC Liberals for the Chilliwack chamber members.With corporate tax rates in B.C. cut by another 10 per cent last month, and the federal rate expected to drop by 15 per cent next year, the province is an “icon of strength” to foreign investors, Hansen said.“U.S. companies are looking to move into B.C. because we are once again competitive,” he said.B.C.’s economy and its markets have both diversified, and its no longer reliant on a single sector like forestry.Over one billion dollars was invested in mine development last year, Hansen said, and exports to Asia Pacific countries are growing, like the market for raw lumber in China.Job-creation is also back to pre-recession rates, he said, and taxes and fees paid by British Columbians is “less today than they would have (paid) 10 years ago.”While cuts in health care spending have been criticized, Hansen, who is also the health minister, said “you cannot measure the success of health care by how much money you throw at it.”He said success is measure in the medical outcomes, and B.C. is leading in life expectancy, leading in cancer survival rates, and has the second lowest infant mortality rate.The minister also touched on the sensitive issue of the harmonized sales tax.Hansen admitted doing a “terrible job” of introducing the HST, but he now sees a “palpable change” in the public’s anger.“There’s a lot more we could have done and should have done to explain (the tax) to B.C.,” he said, but he maintained the HST will result in a “higher standard of living” for British Columbians.Both Hansen and Chilliwack MLA John Les, who introduced the minister at the chamber lunch, are supporting Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Kevin Falcon in the party’s leadership race.

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