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Clark says B.C. budget in the black, resource sector powers economy

VICTORIA - British Columbia Premier Christy Clark repeated her promise of a balanced budget Wednesday, less than a month before her government tables a fiscal plan that is expected to have a thin surplus.

The Liberal premier staked her re-election last year in part on keeping the province's books balanced, and she told a business audience in Prince George she and her finance minister will keep that promise.

"We have balanced our budget, and in February, Mike de Jong, our finance minister, is going to introduced the second-consecutive balanced budget here in British Columbia," Clark said during a speech to the Premier's B.C. Natural Resource Forum.

The Liberal government is scheduled to table its provincial budget on Feb. 18.

The province's previous budget for 2013-2014 marked the end of several years of deficits. A pre-election version of the budget originally included a surplus for 2013-14 of $197 million, though that was cut to $153 million when it was updated in June.

Late last year, de Jong said the government was on track to deliver a budget for 2014-2015 that included a surplus of $165 million.

However, at the same time he acknowledged the government's jobs plan was sputtering, and people were leaving B.C. in search of full-time work.

The Opposition NDP have said B.C. has lost thousands of private-sector jobs since the government launched its jobs plan more than two years ago, with more than 14,000 British Columbians moving to Alberta to look for work

On Wednesday, Clark insisted the forthcoming budget will show the government is controlling spending while embracing a growing resource sector that has the power to turn B.C. into the fastest growing and cleanest economy in Canada.

She said B.C.'s resource sector — propelled by growth in mining, forestry and natural gas development — has bounced back after the global meltdown six years ago.

She said resource development, which includes exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia, developing new mines and building the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam, represents an opportunity to ensure B.C.'s place as an economic powerhouse in Canada, while providing continued support for education, health care and social services and public infrastructure.

"We have a choice as a generation: do we grow so that we can maintain those institutions that our forebears built," Clark said.

"Do we grow or do we manage decline? Do we watch those institutions crumble because we can no longer afford to look after them? I say we grow. I believe we have to grasp this opportunity to make our economy bigger."

Clark said her resource-development vision includes environmental leadership and inclusion for First Nations.

"Too many First Nations communities have been left out of economic growth for far too long," she said. "It's a tragedy. I agree, let's bring them inside the tent."

Earlier this week, the Wet'suwet'un First Nation of north-central B.C. said the Clark government was moving too slowly when it comes to consulting with First Nations about proposed liquefied natural gas developments on their territories. Wet'suwet'un Chief Karen Ogen said in a letter to Clark the government should be consulting First Nations about the developments, including revenue sharing.

Clark said her Liberals were re-elected last May with a mandate to grasp resource opportunities that could open huge trade opportunities in Asian markets while remaining environmental leaders.

"On May 14, British Columbians were confronted with a question, and the question was: do you want to grow the economy or do you want to make a different choice and manage decline?"

Clark's Liberals won re-election last May despite opinion polls that had predicted a divisive win for the New Democrats.

The Canadian Press

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