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B.C. finance minister resoles old shoes to unveil new budget during tough times

B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong tries on his budget day shoes after having the soles replaced at the Olde Towne Shoe Repair in Victoria, B.C. Monday, February 17, 2014. De Jong will table the provincial budget on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

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B.C. Finance Minister Mike de Jong tries on his budget day shoes after having the soles replaced at the Olde Towne Shoe Repair in Victoria, B.C. Monday, February 17, 2014. De Jong will table the provincial budget on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

VICTORIA - Finance Minister Mike de Jong says he's wearing a pair of resoled shoes to Tuesday's budget to send the message that British Columbia is on the path to financial stability, despite some wear and tear.

De Jong said Monday the budget he will introduce is balanced but he warned taxpayers not to expect huge spending initiatives or major tax breaks.

While getting his shoes repaired, De Jong also had new holes punched into one of his belts to symbolize what he says is ongoing belt tightening by the Liberal government.

"They're an old pair of shoes that were still functional, still worked and needed a bit of repairs, but they're good as new now and at a far better price," he said. "They're not new. They're resoled, repaired and ready to log some more miles."

De Jong walked out of a downtown Victoria cobbler's shop wearing his shiny, recycled black leather shoes.

He said wearing his used shoes to the budget presentation represents frugality and a solid commitment to continue on the current road of tight control on government spending.

"It's an indication that the government are going to continue to guard taxpayers' money very, very carefully," de Jong said. "We are going to continue to exercise rigid discipline on the spending side. We're going to make sure that we respect the taxpayers by not spending more on their money than they send us."

Bruce Ralston, multiculturalism and immigration critic for the Opposition New Democrats, said he will focus on several areas of the budget to determine how the Liberals arrived at their bottom-line numbers.

Late last year, the Finance Ministry projected a budget surplus of $165 million, but Ralston said the government arrived at that estimate by trimming government contingency reserves by $50 million.

Ralston said he will be looking to see the role contingency funds and sales of government properties contribute to the budget numbers.

"I don't expect much in the way of innovation," Ralston said. "This will simply be rolling over the numbers from last year. There won't be much here in this budget."

De Jong said he will table a three-year fiscal plan that forecasts modest budget surpluses, which are strong signs the Liberal government has stuck to its goals of controlling government spending during challenging times.

Other than Saskatchewan, B.C. is the only province to balance its books, he said.

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said last week the Conservative government in Ottawa is on target to produce a balanced budget next year — ahead of a federal election — but this year he's still battling a deficit.

De Jong has already said the budget will not include revenue estimates from the development of the liquefied natural gas industry. He said the government is still refining its regulatory and taxation policies for the prospective new industry and legislation won't be tabled until the fall.

Premier Christy Clark has said LNG development represents a trillion-dollar economic opportunity for B.C. that could create up to 100,000 jobs. Last year, she outlined plans for a fund that she predicted would build enough resource revenues to pay off B.C.'s debt, currently hovering at $60 billion and rising.

Canadian Taxpayers' Federation B.C. spokesman Jordan Bateman said Clark's promise of LNG revenues is still just a promise, and until that money appears — if it ever does — the Liberals should continue their tight-wad financial ways.

Bateman said he'll be looking for the Liberals to control the provincial debt, which has been rising steadily.

He suggested the Liberals devote 75 per cent of their surplus revenues to paying down the debt.

NDP finance critic Mike Farnworth said he'll look to see if the B.C. budget factors in costs associated with fewer federal health dollars and the recent B.C. Supreme Court judgment that found the Liberal government should not have removed the rights of teachers to bargain class sizes and their composition as part of their collective agreement.

The government said it will appeal the ruling. Education Minister Peter Fassbender said reinstating previous contract language governing class size and composition could cost the government up to $1 billion.

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