Two weeks after the cashstrapped B.C. government announced a wave of austerity measures, Premier Christy Clark dipped back into the piggy bank Friday to unveil a new round of construction projects.
Clark announced $207 million in "new capital investments" for transportation, housing, education and health projects during a speech at the Union of B.C. Municipalities meeting in Victoria.
That spending is in addition to $509-million toward the 10-year plan to expand the highway from Kamloops to Alberta, Clark said.
A full list of the spending projects wasn't available Friday. The Finance Ministry said the projects will be announced over the next few months, prior to the February 2013 provincial budget.
Finance Minister Mike de Jong denied his government was planning a series of good-news announcements during the rest of the year.
"The room and the ability to surprise people with numerous good news announcements is very limited," he said.
De Jong described it as a "limited amount of capital dollars" that won't lead to a spending spree.
But it was only two weeks ago that de Jong announced a government hiring and wage freeze, along with spending cutbacks and "extreme" controls on discretionary spending, because of slumping provincial revenue.
At that time, de Jong's first quarterly update also pledged to reduce capital spending by $997 million over three years, and even cancel some building projects, in order to keep down the government's debt level.
De Jong had also outlined hundreds of millions in spending cuts in an attempt to try and balance the budget as promised in 2013.
De Jong said Friday he's not trying to send mixed messages.
"I think the message is that by being frugal, we can create an ever-so-slight amount of room to address some of these needs," he said.
It's hard to reconcile the premier's "vague" spending promises with the finance minister's cuts, said NDP critic Bruce Ralston.
He said the $207 million was a "non-announcement" because it was already in the government's capital plan, and the $509-million highway was a 10-year plan that can't even be found in the province's books.
"These are just ideas, there is no money attached to them," Ralston said.
"They are not announcements in any way."
Few of the capital projects disclosed Friday were located on Vancouver Island.
The Education Ministry did disclose $13 million in building improvements to Nanaimo's Bayview, Coal Tyee and Quarterway elementary schools, as well as Georgia Park Elementary in Campbell River. The money is earmarked for schools that suffered water damage due to building construction failures, the ministry said.
"It certainly does look, on the surface, that there's once again nothing on the Island," said EsquimaltRoyal Roads NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis.
"The government has pretty much written off our communities."
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