VICTORIA — British Columbia maintained its budget surplus in the last fiscal year even though it boosted spending on government programs by almost $3 billion and covered significant expenses from disastrous wildfires in 2017.
The 2017-18 public accounts released Tuesday by Finance Minister Carole James showed an operating surplus of $301 million for the year, which is $55 million higher than the surplus forecast in the budget update last fall.
She said the government reduced its debt and achieved a balanced budget despite historic losses at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
"Our surplus is modest but also higher than anticipated in our last quarterly report," she said. "We are maintaining reasonable surpluses throughout our fiscal plan despite the challenges that we have been left with."
After assuming power from the B.C. Liberals last summer, the minority New Democrat government promised to help families and improve services while building a long-term sustainable economy.
"Unlike the previous government we're not going to pretend that financial challenges don't exist," said James. "We don't believe in passing problems on to future generations. We are tackling them."
The Liberals, meanwhile, said the public accounts show the NDP continues to ride on the previous government's economic record.
"It took 16 years of hard work to rebuild our province's economy after the NDP's disastrous term as government in the 1990s," Liberal house leader Mary Polak said in a news release.
"What today's numbers don't show are the impacts of a pile of taxes the B.C. NDP have recently imposed on British Columbians. The NDP are using public accounts as a smokescreen to avoid tough questions about massive tax increases that will have a profound impact on our economy."
James said overall, the province is seeing long-term economic growth.
Revenue was $571 million higher than the previous year, mostly due to increased federal transfers resulting from revised population estimates and higher taxation revenue.
She said the government is making an adjustment of $950 million in the public accounts to reduce BC Hydro's deferral accounts. Through this adjustment and an ongoing review of the utility, she said the government is working on solutions that will keep rates affordable.
"People won't see a change on their existing Hydro bill," James said.
The government is also committed to addressing the housing crisis, she said. The government wants to see more affordability for families and individuals, and for the market to moderate, all of which are important for the economy to thrive.
"We need a long-term stable growth in B.C., not a speculative real estate market."
Addressing the money spent on fighting wildfires, James said regardless of what it costs, there is money in the budget. The Wildfire Service says 2018 is the second-worst wildfire season on record, with 2017 listed as the worst.