B.C. throne speech promises to pay people back as election nears

Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon delivered the government's throne speech in the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Photo by The Canadian Press.

The B.C. government says it is time to reap the financial rewards of sustained budget surpluses, promising taxpayers Tuesday that they can expect to see some relief in next week's budget.

Premier Christy Clark said the budget will offer taxpayers help with the fiscal burdens they face, but she wasn't saying much else about what's coming, other than ruling out rebate cheques.

"I want to find ways to give back to British Columbians," she told a news conference after the government's throne speech was delivered by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon on Tuesday.

The budget will be the last before this spring's provincial election.

NDP Leader John Horgan saw the throne speech as a pitch for votes.

"As throne speeches go, this is one of the hollowest I've seen," he said. "It's a good thing she didn't say pay off because that's what it sounds like to me."

He said the government is planning to offer British Columbians some form of financial reward after hitting them with years of increases for hydro, auto insurance and medical services premiums.

Clark's government is expected to table its fifth consecutive balanced budget next week. In November, the government projected a surplus of about $2.2 billion for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Like many throne speeches, details on the government's plans for the new legislative session were vague.

"After years of sacrifice by all of us in British Columbia through challenging times, working together with a plan, your government is now in a position to pay you back, to relieve some financial burdens, and to invest in your household," it said.

The government's focus on balanced budgets, spending controls and debt reduction has produced growing surpluses that give the province the ability to do more for taxpayers, the speech said.

"That money belongs to you," it said. "And in the coming budget, your government will provide financial relief to taxpayers, while continuing to make investments in the services people rely on."

Although B.C. faces risks from weakening global economies and rising protectionism in the United States and Europe, the speech said the province will adhere to its principles of open and fair trade.

The province also faces challenges on the expired softwood lumber agreement with the United States, it said. Former federal cabinet minister David Emerson was appointed by Clark on Tuesday to work with Ottawa and the new administration in the United States to reach a deal on softwood lumber.

The government also claimed credit in the throne speech for taking the lead on the opioid crisis, which resulted in more than 900 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. last year.

"Your government has taken action, and is ready to do more," the speech said.

The provincial election is set for May 9. The Liberals are seeking a fifth consecutive mandate.

The Liberals hold 47 seats in the legislature, the NDP 35 and there are three Independents, which includes one seat held by the Green party.

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