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B.C. Liberals to table balanced budget

Finance Minister Mike de Jong is set to deliver what he's calling a pre-election balanced budget Tuesday - complete with a seal of approval from a noted economist - but the Opposition New Democrats say British Columbians won't buy it.

The delivery of what de Jong is calling a balanced budget makes good on the Liberal government's promise to get British Columbia out of the red after four consecutive deficit budgets in time for the fast-approaching May 14 provincial election.

But de Jong said it wasn't easy balancing the books, which means the budget won't be bursting with election goodies to entice voters.

"To reconfirm, the budget will be balanced," he said last week. "Getting there is not easy. This will not be a traditional pre-election budget where governments are doling out promises in the billions of dollars. The money simply isn't there."

A Liberal government source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the government will go to great lengths to show exactly how Tuesday's budget is balanced.

The source said the budget includes economic forecasts of modest surpluses over the next three years.

The source said former Bank of Montreal chief economist Tim O'Neill has examined the government's revenue projections in the budget and will confirm the numbers are on track.

The Liberals are expected to release O'Neill's report on Monday.

Opposition finance critic Bruce Ralston said the findings of a hired hand and the government's tabling of what it says is a balanced budget likely won't be enough to convince British Columbians.

He said most British Columbians have yet to forget former premier Gordon Campbell's promise during the 2009 election campaign that the budget's deficit was a maximum of $495 million, but ended up near $2 billion after the campaign in which the Liberals won their third consecutive mandate.

"They face intense public skepticism on their record that they deceived the public in 2009, so I think people will approach whatever the finance minister says with a real lack of confidence," said Ralston.

The Canadian Press

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