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Election-year speech from throne hints at ‘relief’ for B.C. taxpayers

Premier Christy Clark pledged Tuesday to share a projected $2.2 billion surplus directly with taxpayers in a move that the Opposition characterized as a pre-election payoff.

Premier Christy Clark pledged Tuesday to share a projected $2.2 billion surplus directly with taxpayers in a move that the Opposition characterized as a pre-election payoff.

Clark used her government’s annual throne speech to promise vague “financial relief” to taxpayers in next week’s budget, but offered no details about what form the assistance will take.

“After years of sacrifice by all of us in British Columbia through challenging times, working together with a plan, your government is now in a position to pay you back, to relieve some financial burdens, and to invest in your household and in your families,” stated the speech, read by Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon.

The speech said that the government’s plan to control spending and pay down the debt has led to a series of surpluses.

“That money belongs to you,” the speech said. “And in the coming budget, your government will provide financial relief to taxpayers”

Clark ruled out rebate cheques, but declined to say whether the relief will take the form of tax breaks, changes to the Medical Services Plan, or reduced fees.

“When we have a surplus, it means we are taking too much money from people in their taxes,” she said. “So we want to make sure that we find ways to give that money back to citizens, because I just don’t believe government can spend people’s money better than they can. So I want to find ways to give that back to citizens and let them make choices about their own hard-earned money.”

NDP Leader John Horgan accused Clark of trying to buy off British Columbians prior to an election after years of sticking people with higher costs.

“This is a government that’s been taking money away from people, whether it’s MSP increases, hydro rate increases, ICBC increases,” he said. “Now, just before an election, they’re going to try to give it back to the public, as if that’s going to make up for years and years and years of taking money out of people’s pockets.”

Horgan said that if Clark was genuine about wanting to help people, she should have started long ago.

“Now she comes in and delivers a throne speech that says, ‘We’re going to pay you back, or rather pay you off, in hopes that we’re going to get elected.’ ”

Horgan said the rest of the speech was surprisingly devoid of new ideas. “I believe that as throne speeches go this was one of the hollowest I’ve seen.”

The speech mostly recounted past government accomplishments and reiterated the B.C. Liberals’ commitment to growing the economy and creating jobs.

It warned that “risk is all around us” in the form of a weak global economy and the rise of protectionism in the United States and Europe.

On that front, Clark announced that David Emerson, a former federal cabinet minister and forestry company executive, will be the province’s new trade envoy to the United States. Reporting directly to the premier, he will work with the Canadian and U.S. governments to try get a new softwood lumber deal.

“He is probably the most skillful and knowledgeable person in this area that we could send down to the States on our behalf,” Clark said.

The throne speech devoted only a few paragraphs to the planned liquefied natural gas industry that Clark trumpeted in the last provincial election. The speech said that “unforeseen headwinds have created challenging conditions” and that “bringing home the generational opportunity of LNG remains within reach.”

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver panned the speech for its lack of new ideas.

“The government started the throne speech with the words “Your government has a plan,’” he said in a statement. “They spent the next forty minutes congratulating themselves for their past actions.

“Clearly, there was no plan and they have no plan. The BC Liberals are out of ideas and out of touch with the issues facing ordinary British Columbians.”



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