Balanced budget battle

Parksville Qualicum Beach-area MLAs have differing views on the B.C. budget

Local MLA Ron Cantelon

Local MLA Ron Cantelon

The provincial government has battled a worldwide economic downturn and has come back in better shape than just about any other jurisdiction in North America, says the MLA for Parksville Qualicum.

“The economy has stabilized and we have come back faster by trimming expenses and fiscal discipline to hold our expenses in line,” Ron Cantelon said Tuesday in Victoria after the release of the provincial budget. “Our economy has recovered better than others, so we are in a very reasonable place.”

Scott Fraser, an NDP MLA who represents the Alberni-Pacific Rim constituency, says the last pre-election budget mislead the people of British Columbia, and therefore the B.C. Liberals have a credibility problem.

“The last time they said there was going to be a $495 million deficit and not a penny more,” Fraser said. “It ended up being $2 billion as soon as the election was over. They were off by 400 per cent. This was no margin of error. They misled the public. This is anything but a balanced budget — it’s voodoo economics.”

Cantelon, a two-term B.C. Liberal who is not running for re-election in May, dismisses charges that the government misled the people about the last pre-election budget.

“Hello, what planet were you on?” he asked. “The world economies were collapsing. We got our spending under control, which was tough. I sat on treasury board when we cut 3,000 jobs. We only had to layoff 500 people but we eviscerated operating budgets to get expenses in line —but the economy kept dropping and dropping. It’s been a severe, painful time of retrenching, but we recovered better.”

Cantelon said the government’s emphasis on skills training is a necessary step towards continuing prosperity in the future.

“We need more skilled labour,” he said. “We don’t need more people like me, with a general BA. We need people with specific skills and we need them badly. We need people to train for where there are jobs.”

The budget got a big thumbs up from the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce.

“The budget returns B.C. to a balanced budget environment against a backdrop of few choices and increasing pressure to spend, to influence voters in the upcoming provincial election,” said chamber president Kim Burden. “We acknowledge the finance minister’s revenue and expense projections and note that his assumptions regarding growth over the fiscal cycle are moderate in keeping with the assumptions of prominent national economists.”

For an election year budget, he added, “there is remarkable constraint on spending, and we acknowledge the discipline required to identify $1.1 billion in savings in various ministries and Crown agencies.”

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