B.C. posts $1.3B budget surplus for 2021-22, in contrast with big deficit forecast

·3 min read

VICTORIA — British Columbia's public accounts have registered a surplus of $1.3 billion, in sharp contrast with a forecast deficit of almost $10 billion, as the province experienced a stronger-than-expected economic turnaround.

The audited figures showed that B.C.'s economy in 2021-22 had outperformed both public and private sector projections, Finance Minister Selina Robinson said Tuesday.

The April 2021 budget, delivered during some of the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, had foreseen a deficit of $9.7 billion, but revenues improved throughout the year, producing the "unexpected surplus", Robinson said at a news conference.

Robinson said the improved bottom line could be attributed to reopening the economy and the resultant increase in tax revenue, one-time federal contributions for COVID-19 and disaster events, higher natural resource revenues and higher Crown corporation earnings, especially at the Insurance Corp. of B.C.

The economy "reopened faster and grew at a stronger rate" than anyone anticipated, she said. "Revenues improved over the year as the economy recovered and expenses increased as government delivered further pandemic recovery programs."

The surplus was a positive development, but uncertainties ranging from the global economy to COVID-19 and inflation continued to loom, Robinson said.

“Today is different than it was last year and the year before that,” she said.

"This is a report out of how we did with the last fiscal. We are in a new fiscal year and in a new fiscal time and monitoring very carefully to make sure we are continuing to deliver for British Columbians."

Robinson said the government was preparing to introduce initiatives next week to address cost-of-living measures.

The province introduced a $60-million education support fund this week to help schools expand meal programs and assist families with school supplies and field-trip costs.

"We're going to be doing more of that," said Robinson. "We can target the right people."

She said last year was challenging for people in B.C. as they faced the ongoing pandemic and devastating climate disasters.

But Opposition BC Liberal finance critic Peter Milobar said the government should have acted more quickly to offer relief to people in B.C.

The New Democrats knew last spring their budget was heading for a surplus, but waited until the late summer to announce assistance plans, he said.

"We've been calling for relief since March," said Milobar, adding the Liberals proposed temporarily suspending gas taxes, speeding up climate action rebate payments and asking the government to deliver on its past election promise of a $400 rent rebate.

"These are measures that should have been introduced," he said. "We've been told something will happen next week. It shouldn't have taken five months."

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the government had been building a budget surplus while one million people in B.C. were without a family doctor and ambulance services faced delays or were unavailable.

"We have so many crises in this province right now this not a time for the government to pat itself on the back because of a surplus," she said.

Robinson said she expected to provide an update on B.C.'s current finances next month, in a quarterly report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2022.

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press