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B.C. budget deficit to rise without cuts to people or services, finance minister says

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British Columbia Finance Minister Katrine Conroy says the province should prepare for a fiscal deficit in the upcoming budget — but there won't be cuts that result in a "deficit of services".

Speaking Wednesday, the day before she tables the 2024 budget in the legislature, Conroy promised to not raise taxes, while protecting services for ordinary residents struggling to make ends meet.

She said the economy is slowing in British Columbia and around the world, making it the right time to "support people."

"It's not the right time to say to people, 'well, we're going to start cutting the hospital services, we're going to start cutting schools.' It's just not the right thing to do. We don't need a deficit of services in this province."

Conroy held a press conference at a Victoria community centre that serves as a daycare and gives out low-cost food.

She said the budget will address health care, middle-class housing, a clean economy and incentives for small business.

She said the budget will touch on discussions about Translink, the transit authority covering Metro Vancouver, as well as transit across the province.

"You will see an investment in a number of initiatives including education. We will continue to support school districts to hire the teachers they need, to hire the teaching assistants they need, because that's critically important to the kids in this province," she said.

Conroy said she couldn't pinpoint the size of the deficit, which was projected to reach $5.6 billion late last year, but the budget's long-term outlook forecasts deficit declines.

A report issued earlier this month by the Business Council of British Columbia predicts that "lacklustre" growth globally, high interest rates and weak private-sector job and investment numbers will add up to "a drag on prosperity" this year.

The report says B.C.'s economy grew just 0.9 per cent in 2023 and is forecast to grow only 0.7 per cent in 2024.

The government's budget comes less than nine months before a provincial election and the same week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Vancouver to announce a $2-billion federal financing contribution to the provincial NDP's BC Builds plan. That sum tops up $2 billion in low-cost provincial financing for developers and $950 million to build homes that would be available at below-market rates.

Conroy, who describes herself as a frugal person, said she would be breaking with tradition for the second year in a row by not wearing a new pair of shoes when she delivers the budget. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024. 

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