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B.C. Conservatives gamble on balanced budget to win over Liberals

John Cummins at a news conference in Vancouver in 2011.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins is hoping to capture disillusioned Liberal voters by laying out a fiscal plan that promises to balance the budget, phase out the carbon tax and make MLAs work harder.

"We're not out in right or left field," Mr. Cummins said as he unveiled the middle-of-the-road plan his government would adopt if the Conservatives were to win the May 14 provincial election.

"British Columbians can rest assured that the notions and ideas we have are solid, that they are based on good research, that the numbers … are not extreme," he said. "It's safe to say that free enterprisers who may have supported Liberals in the past, when they look at the numbers that we've presented, will be very comfortable in moving over and supporting a B.C. Conservative government."

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Although recent polls show the Conservatives are in a distant race for third place with the Greens, Mr. Cummins' budget numbers come at a difficult time for the Liberals. While he was in Vancouver promising a series of surplus budgets, Premier Christy Clark was in Victoria, mired in controversy and struggling to get her recently introduced budget passed in the House.

Mr. Cummins dismissed the Liberal budget as "not believable" and said by contrast the Conservatives have put forward numbers that always err on the side of caution. He said, for example, that the Conservatives did not include in revenues the "phantom profits" of BC Hydro, which the Auditor General cautioned about in a 2011 audit that found the Crown corporation's use of deferral accounts "creates the appearance of profitability where none actually exists."

Mr. Cummins said governments typically project fiscal plans over a three-year period, but the Conservatives chose to run out the number for five years to reflect the full term of the next government.

The plan shows a series of balanced budgets with a total, cumulative surplus of $3.1-billion by 2017. Total revenue would climb from $43.6-billion in 2013/14 to $57.3-billion by 2017/18. Over that same period, total expenditures would go from $43.4-billion to $56.9-billion.

Mr. Cummins said his government would phase out the $1.2-billion carbon tax over four years, starting in rural and northern B.C. in 2014. He promised $1.5-billion in new spending between 2014 and 2018, saying natural resource revenues are now at historic lows and can be expected to climb.

He also said he would "fundamentally change" the way the legislature operates by requiring MLAs to spend more time working on committees that scrutinize government spending. He said MLAs would have to work harder at exposing "waste, inefficiency and duplication."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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