The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia was convened on the morning of February 8, 2005 for the prorogation of the fifth session of the Thirty-Seventh Parliament. The sixth session was opened that afternoon with the Speech from the Throne read by Lieutenant Governor Iona Campagnolo. Tapping into Olympic optimism, the Speech identified "five great goals for a golden decade." The specific goals include: "making British Columbia the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent; leading the way in North America to healthy living and physical fitness; building the best system of support in Canada for persons with disabilities, special needs, children at risk and seniors; leading the world in sustainable environmental management; and creating more jobs per capita than anywhere else in Canada."
Echoing the themes introduced in the throne speech, the Minister of Finance Colin Hansen (Vancouver-Quilchena) introduced a budget projecting a $1.4-billion surplus with an additional $300 million contingency allowance on February 15. The budget committed $1.7-billion to debt repayment--the largest single annual debt reduction in the province's history. Among other highlights, Budget 2005 established a $3-billion capital investment in the province's transportation infrastructure; increased investment in the tourism sector; bolstered program spending in health and education; raised the threshold for the corporate capital tax; and provided additional tax rebates for consumers purchasing energy-efficient furnaces and hybrid passenger vehicles.
In her response, the Opposition House Leader Joy MacPhail (Vancouver-Hastings) labelled the budget as a "last-minute extreme political makeover," and stated that the budget would not cover up the government's "history of record deficits, higher taxes and fees, longer wait-lists, failed privatization schemes and a more polarized and divided province."
In a noteworthy procedural move, the Government House Leader Graham Bruce (Cowichan-Ladysmith) declared that due to the approaching fixed election date of May 17, 2005, that budget would be debated--but that a line-by-line review of the estimates would not occur until after the election. Noting what appeared to be a $236-million "pre-election slush-fund"--listed as unspecified economic development expenditure--Ms. MacPhail promised that her party would work with the government to conclude estimates debate by April 19, the date scheduled for dissolution...