British Columbia unveils 'give-back' budget ahead of tight poll

Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:40pm EST
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By Nicole Mordant

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - British Columbia unveiled its fifth consecutive balanced budget under the ruling Liberals on Tuesday, doling out tax and financial breaks 11 weeks before what is expected to be a tightly contested provincial election race.

Armed with a healthy balance sheet, Finance Minister Michael de Jong said the Western Canadian province would slash medical services premiums (MSP) in a first step toward eliminating them.

The premiums, which do not exist elsewhere in Canada and have irked many residents, help finance the province's publicly funded medical system.

"The focus on MSP changes is good as it is the most regressive tax we have, but I would have liked them to take a step further and use the surplus to address more pressing needs," Seth Klein, B.C. director with the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said in an interview. Those included affordable housing and childcare, and poverty reduction, he said.

The budget also contained relief for businesses, including phasing out provincial sales tax on electricity purchases. But the moves may be insufficient to win over voters at the polls on May 9.

After 15 years in power, the Liberal Party is neck-and-neck with the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) with many voters unhappy with the provincial government's recent approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion. The party is not linked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party and is more right-leaning.

A Mainstreet/Postmedia poll this week showed each of the two British Columbia parties having 37 percent of voter support.

An NDP victory could derail big oil and gas projects in the province. Party leader John Horgan has vowed to stop the Trans Mountain project and recently expressed reservations about a liquefied natural gas terminal that Malaysia's Petronas [PETR.UL] wants to build.   Continued...